Editorial: LA regrets a misfit

Editorial: LA regrets a misfit


norman lebrecht

September 17, 2019

We have been here before.

At the end of Ernest Fleischmann’s inspirational 28-year leadership in 1997, the organisation appointed a Dutchman,  Willem Wijnbergen, who had been running the Concertgebouw. Wijnbergen, it was clear from the outset, was unsuited. In the most open-shirted of cities, he was uncommunicative and withdrawn. Walt Disney Hall ran into a building crisis. The Dutchman had no solutions. He was gone inside a year, replaced by Deborah Borda, who was plucked from the New York Philharmonic to put the LA Phil back on track.

Over the next 17 years, Borda brought the hall to a triumphant opening and signed the most exciting conductor available in Gustavo Dudamel. She changed the dynamic of the organisation, made the players the best paid in the US and spread a feelgood atmosphere.

When she left in 2017 to return to the NY Phil, the board learned nothing from history. Looking no further than the West Coast, it hired the effective though unimposing manager of the Seattle Symphony and expected him to fill large shoes. Today, we learned, that didn’t work.

Borda’s shadow was too long and Dudamel’s needs too insistent to give a successor much chance of success. The true causes of Woods’s departure may emerge in the coming weeks, but the immediate suspicion is that he was miscast in the role through no fault of his own.

What next?

LA’s headless future.



  • Harold Sacks says:

    Allison Vulgamore.

  • Olassus says:

    Deborah Borda did not make Disney Hall happen. She arrived after all the major hurdles had been overcome and completion was inevitable.

    Yes, she was a fund-raising dynamo and worked beautifully with the Board and the two maestros. But let’s not rewrite history, whose timeline is amply documented in the archives of the Los Angeles Times.

    • John Borstlap says:

      But she was very talented to make things happen, and therefore Jaap van Zweden lured her back to New York. Anyone invited to fill Borda’s very large shoe size should learn from what she has done and work along comparable lines. These things are not exclusively personality-bound but management skills.

    • M2N2K says:

      At this time it looks like you are the one who is “rewriting”: the post says nothing about “making it happen”, but states quite accurately that DB “brought the hall to a triumphant opening”.

  • Fliszt says:

    Fleischmann was inspirational? Oh yeah, so inspirational that Andre Previn abruptly quit the LA Phil in a huff.

  • sam says:

    The jury is still very much out as to Borda’s impact in NY, I mean, so far, her biggest act is to downsize NY’s ambitions to totally renovate its hall (i.e., can’t raise the money). Maybe the next resignation is…

  • Michael B. says:

    Oh Lord, not Allison Vulga(rize)more. She practically wanted to turn the Philadelphia Orchestra into a pops outfit, playing movie music and having the orchestra backing brainless pop singers.

  • Spamalot says:

    What are the odds that Broda and Woods left for the same reason (Dudamel)?

  • Killjoy says:

    Borda spread a feelgood atmosphere in LA? Please. It’s a snakepit.