LA’s headless future

LA’s headless future


norman lebrecht

September 17, 2019

The LA Phil’s chief executive, Simon Woods, resigned last night, with immediate effect.

LA Opera’s general director, Placido Domingo, is absent while a law firm investigates numerous, nameless claims of misconduct. Even if he is completely exonerated, Domingo at 78 needs to go.

That leaves the city’s two international performing companies simultaneously headless.

(UPDATE: The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra is also seeking a CEO.)

The situation is no coincidence. The board of LA Opera has long been asleep on its watch. The board of the LA Phil has, by contrast, probably been hyper-awake.

They need to talk. The future of LA arts is at stake. The next-gen execs who are chosen must have some measure of strategic coordination, thinking beyond the narrow parameters of their institution to the wider question of what is best for the arts in LA.

They must be people who know and love LA, who can come up with a coherent vision.

Renee Fleming would be wrong. So would Deborah Rutter. Move down one gen.

Anyone in mind?


  • EagleArts says:

    IMO the arts are doing great in all areas in Los Angeles. Yes there are some leadership issues happening with the Phil and Opera, but overall the arts in LA are vibrant like never before. You should visit Norman.

  • Drew says:

    Gail Samuel, who more than ably led the L.A. Phil during Deborah Borda’s HBS sabbatical, and who still serves as executive director, should be granted serious consideration. I don’t know her track record as a fundraiser, but her leadership and business management skills, and her insider’s knowledge of the workings of the Phil–both the good and the problematic–should place her in a position of strength.

    • carter says:

      Gail is so talented, so connected, and so well liked, and has been with the Phil for the longest time. To not consider her would be a mistake. It was when Woods was selected, and would be even more so now. Chad Smith is also a fine selection and is thought of well enough to head next year’s Ojai Music Festival.

  • In a city the size of Los Angeles there’s always someone else.

  • Ernie R. says:

    Why is he leaving?

  • Ravi Narasimhan says:

    The LA Phil has been “thinking beyond the narrow parameters of their institution” for quite some time. All those staged operas they do raised hackles across the street.

    “Drama afoot as L.A. Opera feels heat of rival works”

    • EastsideArts says:

      Yeah, they have the $$$ to do it thanks to the Hollywood Bowl, but as great as the Phil is… they are not an opera orchestra. I’ve seen several of their opera performances and balances are always off, ensemble compromised, etc.

      Here’s a snippet from the NYT review of 2012’s Don Giovanni:

      “Conducted by Mr. Dudamel, the orchestra was placed far above and behind the icebergs and the singers, which was fine for balances but disastrous for coordination. Even by the fourth (and final) performance of the run on Saturday, not a minute of the score went by with the singers and the players firmly in sync. In any opera this would be a problem, but it is fatal for a work as dependent on precision and timing as “Don Giovanni.”

      Leave opera to the experts across the street!

      • Ravi Narasimhan says:

        I can’t/won’t argue quality since the staged operas are among the reasons I don’t go to the Phil any more. My point was only that ambition has not been in short supply over there.

  • Larry says:

    I wouldn’t mix the LA Phil with the LA Opera, since the reasons for them being “headless” are so very different.

  • MacroV says:

    How about someone from the film industry for the opera? An executive from Lucasfilm or someone who works with Spielberg? Someone who has made enough money and wants a challenge. One might disdain the lowbrow film industry, but there are a lot of really creative and talented people there.

  • Brightlightsbigcity says:

    This entire industry basically fails upward. With the exception of a few brilliant lights like Borda, Rutter, Tarnopolsky and Gilmore, most of the leadership is a wasteland of League of American Orchestra endorsed bores. Peter Gelb, for all of the criticism, is a visionary. American cultural institutions need executive recruitment and not Micahel Kaiser style; he ran the Kennedy Center into a whole but continues to be protected.

    LA Phil made a boldless decision and Borda loves it because her cult continues onward. However, what is a cult without any worthy deciples?