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 In the most open-shirted of cities, he was uncommunicative and withdrawn.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.