LA Phil: Who’s in, who’s out

LA Phil: Who’s in, who’s out


norman lebrecht

September 06, 2017

The president has flown off to New York and two principal players have mysteriously disappeared.

The indefatigable CK Dexter Haven attempts to get some clarity on the swing-door orchestra which ‘never comments on personnel issues’.


The biggest buzz of the past few months happened immediately after the Walt Disney Concert Hall season ended when the orchestra roster no longer included two principal players:  Carrie Dennis (viola) and Ariana Ghez (oboe).

There was no official press release regarding their departure, but the news spread like wildfire nonetheless.  In fact, I’ve never received so many questions about LA Phil personnel as I have over the past few months.

Read on here.


  • Jon H says:

    This is enough to make any normal concertgoer go crazy. You notice the orchestra’s doing a favorite work in six months, and you’re wondering if the principal will be there to deliver that solo.
    Or maybe it’s the co-principal, or random sub… Do you want to pay a lot of money that far in advance with such doubts…
    I don’t care anymore. I know my orchestra isn’t the most attractive gig in the country – but something nice may happen with someone good on the podium.

    • Andrew says:

      I believe that this sort of refined, demanding listener is extremely rare. And I’m afraid you’re giving the “normal” concertgoer too much credit. I personally know subscribers who attend orchestra concerts every week of the season and yet cannot name all of the instruments that regularly appear on stage.

      • Alex Davies says:

        Do you actually mean that they cannot name all of the instruments (i.e., violin, viola, cello, double bass, flute, piccolo, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, etc.), or only that they cannot name every individual player of those instruments (e.g., Mark Templeton, principal trombone, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Christine Pendrill, principal cor anglais, London Symphony Orchestra, etc.)? On the one hand I’d be surprised if any regular concert goer could not name all of the instruments (while allowing for the likelihood that many people could not identify a basset horn, sarrusophone, cimbalom, or violoncello da spalla). On the other hand, I think that it would be quite reasonable to imagine that the vast majority of concert goers probably pay little to no attention to individual players. Personally, I pay most attention to the concertmaster, and do have definite favourites: Pieter Schoeman, and previously Boris Garlitsky, at the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Vasko Vassilev at the Royal Opera House.

        No doubt most people will pay some attention to the oboe solo in the Brahms violin concerto, the horn in Tchaikovsky 5, the viola in RVW’s London Symphony, the first violin solo in Shostakovich 5, etc., but I suspect that only a very few people take orchestral personnel into account when booking their tickets. I have never yet felt the need to check out exactly who will be playing the alto saxophone solo in Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances before parting with my money at the box office.

        Once at the Royal Festival Hall I sat in front of a gentleman who informed me after the concert that he had attended that evening specifically so that he could hear Andy Smith, who was at the time still principal timpanist of the Philharmonia Orchestra. I believe that this is a special kind of dedication.

        In fact, is there not a perfectly valid argument that one goes to an orchestral concert to hear the orchestra, not its individual players? I couldn’t name a single player in the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, but I do know that it is possibly the best orchestra I have ever heard.

  • NYMike says:

    Carrie Dennis – from Curtis to Philly Orch. to Berlin Phil to LA Phil and now back to subbing in Philly. I wish her the best……

  • Alex says:

    Ms. Dennis seems a bit of an unstable personality, maybe not very well-suited for the close-quarters-combat of a professional orchestra. And dogging a concert … very not cool. The assistant principal should always be ready to play the solos anyway, but I bet Ms. Silverman has done a lot of that in the last few years. Maybe they should just give her the job and have done with it. Much better to have a reliable veteran in the post than an unreliable superstar.

    • Jim says:

      Do you know her personally? Are you really willing to call her an “unstable personality” based on some hearsay from an orchestra gossip columnist?

  • Jon H says:

    As good as all these people (who move around) are – there are recordings where all the principals and most permanents were present – and the musical cohesion they’ve had at those times, sets a standard that I’m sure many people (who listen to recordings) are unconsciously expecting.

  • Michael B. says:

    The unfortunate reality is that no one who really matters in Los Angeles gives a rodent’s posterior about what happens in that orchestra. All they care about is the weekly Hollywood box-office grosses, the dresses worn by women stars at the awards shows, and the expensive, gas-guzzling sports cars driven by the Hollywood crowd (who will loudly proclaim their support of “environmentalism” while driving Ferraris, Maseratis, Aston Martins, Lamborghinis, and 12-cylinder BMWs and Mercedes).

    • Mark Henriksen says:

      They have a $255 million dollar endowment so there are some people who “matter” giving money.

      • M2N2K says:

        Not only that, but with the annual budget that is well over 120 million, only about half of which comes from ticket sales and microscopic government support, the remaining 60,000,000+ must and apparently does keep to be given every single year by a number of generous people because it certainly does not appear magically from “a rodent’s posterior”.

  • AJ Styles says:

    Feel free to take my comment with a grain of salt, but I have friends who are string players in the LA Phil, some have been with the orchestra for a very long time. From my conversations with them, is that Ms. Dennis is a brilliant player, but lacks the leadership to lead her section. I have been told she also haven’t made that many friends in the orchestra, which can mean an awful lot. There’s also other substantial issues that I can’t share, but the firing was building up for a few years and probably overdue. This definitely wasn’t a spontaneous decision.

  • John Porter says:

    The unfortunate fact is that it is largely difficult to tell one orchestra from the next today. The days of Boston sounding French, Philly with the particular string sound, New York sounding hard edged, and Chicago sounding loud, and a slew of idiosyncratic players that you could easily pick out from the Gomberg brothers, to Ray Still, or Vacchiano to Herseth to Voisin, well, those days are long gone. I would love to see a classical music blind listening test for orchestras, like Downbeat has done for years, to see who could possibly identify one conductor or orchestra recording over the next. It’s has become mostly homogenized with so many fine players out there that the top orchestras all sound basically the same.

    • Old Man in the Midwest says:

      I can still pick out orchestras even in newer recordings but it is indeed getting harder since some of the star players are being courted internationally much like NBA players who move from team to team in search of more fame and money.

      Since the sound of an orchestra is so dependent on the principals (who now train internationally and move across borders), it does create a homogenized sound that lacks geographic distinction much of the time.

      That is unfortunate but if you are a star performer, why should you not be able to create a demand for yourself and up your income? Conductors and soloists do it and if your talent and hard work allows for a premium in the market, then the Invisible Hand should be allowed to work its course.

      • Jim says:

        People have always trained internationally and moved around, nothing new there. Perhaps the movement is more voluntary now but it’s been happening for quite a while.

  • Random Sub (not that random, as they all invited me - and many of my colleagues - back) says:

    Am I right in thinking that most of the commenters here are saying that guest principals (aka random subs) are below the standard of the contract player, and are not good enough musicians to be able to respond and contribute to an orchestra with whom they have rehearsed all week? Or that contract players are not allowed to be ill, take leave, or go to guest elsewhere for an artistically satisfying project outside of their normal working life? If that’s the case, then I’d say that most of you are talking absolute rubbish. If not, apologies for misunderstanding the general drift.

    • M2N2K says:

      No, you are wrong “in thinking that”: no one here said any such thing – not even the only person who actually used the words “random sub” before you. But your apologies are accepted anyway.

  • Don Hohoho says:

    It’s no surprise Evan Wilson got fired, given his history of sneaky, unethical behavior as far back as his days as a student at Chautauqua Institution. It’s more of a surprise that he ever got hired.

    • jim says:

      What a coward you are, posting defamatory accusations from behind a pseudonym. And having the gall to accuse someone of unethical behaviour.

    • Andrew Brown says:

      I was Evan Wilson’s stand Partner at the Chautauqua festival, and I can tell you that he was an outstanding violist, and a generous leader. He led sectionals, played beautiful solos, and set the standard for the string section. As for LA, I wasn’t there.

      • Evan N Wilson says:

        Since I am the Evan Wilson you are all speaking of I would first like to say thank you to Jim and to Andrew. I have no idea who Don Ho ho ho is but I treasured my years at Chautauqua and was invited back as soloist several times and ultimately as a teacher and then Chairman of the String Department. To be Called sneaky and unethical 37 years later still stings. I don’t know what I ever did to you Don but if I hurt you in someway I would happily apologize. I have no idea what you are speaking about but I know that I have always tried To Be honest, supportive, and the best violist I could be.

      • Evan Wilson says:

        Since I am the Evan Wilson you were talking about why don’t you tell me what I did 37 years ago that was sneaky and unethical and I’m sure I would apologize for it. Thank you Jim and Andrew.