Did the LA Phil ‘demonstrate little leadership’ during Covid?

Did the LA Phil ‘demonstrate little leadership’ during Covid?


norman lebrecht

October 27, 2020

A throwaway line by the LA Times’s music critic Mark Swed is getting a lot of attention:

Every orchestra on Earth, of course, has been affected by the coronavirus. Most have put on a brave face along with face masks and tried in some way or another to act as if there could be a semblance of continuation. But in the first months of the pandemic the L.A. Phil publicly demonstrated little leadership. One minute it was in the midst of a revolutionary and radically prescient “Power to the People” festival; the next minute, the power was summarily turned off.

On a global scale, that strikes me as a bit unfair. Unlike most US orchestras, the LA Phil had its music director Gustavo Dudamel close at hand and working full out during the first half-year of the pandemic. Its musicians were amng the first to work safely in the community and its management has tried hard to maintain hope and a semblance of normality.

In the coming issue of The Critic, out in the next few days, I assess the activities of the world’s music directors during Covid and ask if the role is still justified. Watch this space.


  • sam says:

    It makes no sense to speak of “leadership” for other orchestras to follow, because, when all is said and done, ALL orchestras are local.

    At the end of the day, it’s your local paying audience, or in Europe, you local city council, that pays your bills. Your global reputation, your internet presence, that’s all icing on the cake, but it is not the cake itself, which is the local subscription base or local elected officials.

    What can be done in LA, and they have an excellent Covid series filmed at the open air Hollywood Bowl, cannot be replicated in Cleveland, Ohio. Not the same crowd, not the same money, not the same vibe, not the same resources.

    You can’t even replicate what LA can do with the same LA “leadership” (literally). Deborah Borda is now in NY, and she can’t do a damn thing with the NY Phil, except to let them drive about in a pick up truck.

    Forget about comparing orchestras, because you’re really just comparing local conditions, which cannot be replicated: public health, demographics, money, politics…

  • Anon says:

    What’s really ludicrous is Gustavo Dudamel, who spent years sucking up to the Venezuelan regime and saying ‘I don’t do politics’ in every interview, fronting a festival called Power to the People.

    • M2N2K says:

      It may be a surprise to you, but some people are actually capable of gaining maturity and learning from their mistakes.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Mark Swed is just being a typical critic – someone who is doing nothing criticising those who are doing something.

  • Melissa Plindertipple says:

    The LA Phil management should be ashamed for not commissioning pro-mask symphonic works from BIPOC composers. Talk about a lack of vision and strategic planning. People are crying out for the music of our times, and our arts organizations have failed us by performing the same old tired Tchaikovsky, Mahler, and Brahms white male tripe again and again.

    • papageno says:

      yes people are crying out for the music of our times…it’s called POP MUSIC.

    • Ramesh Nair says:

      Dead White Men did give us Maskarade [ Nielsen ] and Ballo in Maschera [ Verdi ], while nearly 90-yr old Birtwistle has composed ‘the Mask of Orpheus’. All splendid works, though not BIPOC.
      That said, the very Chinese Lei Liang has just composed a homage opera to America’s gun obsession, ‘Inheritance’, that doesn’t refer to the US constitution so much as the Remington Gun. [ There’s a CD of this on the Albany label.] Presumably it has excellent gun sequences, just like the Cultural Revolution ballet, ‘the Red Detachment of Women’.

    • zergafritz says:

      Now THAT’S funny.

      • M2N2K says:

        Yes it is – regardless of whether it was meant to be funny or not. Unfortunately it is also very sad – either way.

  • papageno says:

    I’m surprised to read this as Mark Swed usually kisses up to LA Phil in his fawning reviews.

  • debuschubertussy says:

    What exactly did he want the LA Phil to do?
    In my opinion, the LA Phil should be a model for all other American orchestras to follow—to my mind they’ve done everything right the past 10-20 years and are probably the best overall orchestra in the US right now.