Why Dudamel? There was no choice

Why Dudamel? There was no choice


norman lebrecht

February 07, 2023

Although the New York Phil can outspend any other orchestra in pursuit of big names, it was fast running out of credit in the search for a big-fish conductor.

Pressure to appoint a woman or a person of colour came to nothing as none of the candidates was considered to be of appropriate calibre.

Approaches to a brace of Finns and Lahav Shani were left too late and too little. None of Europe’s big beasts seemed keen. Why would Petrenko leave Berlin or Chailly La Scala for the melting-pots of Manhattan.

In the end there was only one name in the frame. It was just a question of making the numbers work.
It had to be Dudamel.


  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Well done, Dude. Love your work.

  • Frank says:

    “Althought” Once again, Norman is as accurate in his English as he is in his journalism.

  • kh says:

    Before Dudamel arrived in LA, LA Phil had two fractured identities—it was the orchestra of Klemperer, Van Beinum, Mehta, and Giulini, in the city where Schoenberg, Korngold, Walter, and many other German-speaking musical exiles lived and died, and it was also very much the orchestra of his immediate predecessor Salonen, who favours precision and transparency, loves Stravinsky (another longtime LA resident), Bartók, Lutosławski and the like, but has no strong association with traditional Central European musical aesthetics. Dudamel has remarkably managed to weld the two faces together, and the orchestra is now exactly what you would expect it to sound like after looking at their list of past music directors and frequent guest conductors.

    I’m afraid that for Dudamel a similar foundation doesn’t exist with NY Phil to work with (Does it have any identities at all at this point?), and he and the city would find each other disappointing, like what happened with his LA predecessor Mehta. It doesn’t help that from what I heard of his performances, his guest conducting does not measure up to his performances in LA, and although this is most likely an issue of chemistry it still raises the suspicion that the orchestra is really better than he is.

    I wish Dudamel would do well in New York, but now the real interest is who would be the next music director of LA Phil, which in my opinion is now easily the best American orchestra, in the city with the most fascinating musical history in the US.

  • CA says:

    No surprise. Especially with Borda there.

  • Gustavo says:

    The Dude did a great West Side Story in New York thanks to Steve and musical consultant Curley.

  • DaveT says:

    I think that Latino is considered ‘color’ in terms of ‘a person of color’, but I’m not entirely sure.

    • MWnyc says:

      If that person is from Mexico, Central or South America, yes.

    • Harry Collier says:

      Well, as an Englishman I have a colour: pink ! Not too many transparent colourless people around.

      • Rudy says:

        Are you familiar with Jean Genet’s plays ?? In one of his best scenes, a black actor states “whites are liars, they are either pink or yellow”…
        I wonder if it was a joke or a sarcasm

    • HerrForkenspoon says:

      Everyone is a “person of color,” it all depends on which color you see.

    • Rudy says:

      In the anglo saxon world (where racism rules) a blond mexican would be considered “color” or “hispanic” but never “white”…
      The greatest play Genet wrote (“Les negres”) mentions “de quel couleur est un noir?”

    • Gustavo says:

      So it was a woke decision after all?

  • TruthHurts says:

    Let’s hope Dudamel knows his symphonic rep better than he knows the operas he conducts.

  • Nick kis says:

    “ Pressure to appoint a woman or a person of colour came to nothing as none of the candidates was considered to be of appropriate calibre.”

    Always about the same issues with you! It’s time you start talking about qualities and musical taste and not always about this bullshit!!

    Shame on you!!! ”journalist….”

    • Robbie Alexander says:

      It’s about diversity inclusions and delusions. It’s the us empire. Exciting times. Blood sweat and fears.

  • Tiredofitall says:

    All of those big-names in Europe would ultimately ring hollow in New York, not musically, but in terms of sparking the (local) audience imagination. Borda spent years developing the Dudamal brand and this move makes sense.

    Once again, she is leaving an organization in good shape. God help those who follow.

  • Philharmonic board director says:

    It’s good news for New York and for Deborah, but here in Los Angeles we have Gustavo through 2026 and he will visit often as a guest for years to come. In the Philharmonic family we hold him dear to our hearts and thank him for his inspired service to our great organization. Make no mistake that in choosing his successor we will continue to shape the future of music. Mirga already has quite the following, and there are other great candidates.

    • MWnyc says:

      I immediately thought of Mirga. I hope that, by the time the post is free, she is interested in a music director position again.

    • LA Phil Subscriber says:

      I wrote this elsewhere but will repost here: As an audience member, we will all miss Dudamel. And thank you for all you do as a board member for our beloved LA Phil. But please consider the great rising conductor Klaus Makela, or Berlin’s Petrenko, or someone of the ilk. Don’t just make a virtue signal hire like Mirga or Malkki so you can put the “we hired a woman!” feather in your cap. The musicians deserve a great conductor, and so does the audience. Hire someone who can elevate the sound of the orchestra, who can help refine the sound and take the group in a positive direction. Bring us a great conductor, not just someone that Alex Ross will pat you on the back about in a New Yorker article.

      • Another LAPhil Subscriber says:

        Mirga is the only conductor I’ve seen successfully stare down the trumpets during Tchaik 4.

      • Zandonai says:

        Have you read SF Chronicle’s article on Klaus Makela and other young musicians who are “not ready” for prime time?

        • Guesty says:

          I’ve read it. That article was posted 5 days after alex ross wrote the same thing. He basically made the point that Klaus is white and male and therefore shouldn’t be eligible to receive praise. If only he were a different race and gender…oh well!

    • PG Vienna says:

      Philippe Jordan will be available and he is a much bigger calibre.

  • Barry Michael Okun says:

    What exactly does “the melting-pots of Manhattan” mean? I HOPE you’re not suggesting the City is too polyglot for people used to European homogeneity (which doesn’t exist anymore anyway).

  • prof says:

    In the end, it’s not the top post that many think it is.

    Abbado couldn’t drop it fast enough when he found out he was going to get an offer from Berlin.

    Just look at the last two music directors — it’s not a hard act to follow, is it?

  • Michel Lemieux says:

    This is not a surprise. He was the #1 choice for Deborah Borda, the board, and the musicians. The NYT was also in on the charm campaign, giving Dudamel rave notices.

    He will probably be getting at least twice what he was making in LA if not more. And he will be working with a concertmaster, Frank Huang, who is world-class.

    The LA Phil is now going to be in a big quandary Will they hire a white female (Malkki? Mirga?), or will they be obliged to hire a POC (Xian Zhang? Rafael Payare?). Whomever they hire, s/he will not be able to draw in audiences like Dudamel. This is a big loss for them.

    My personal choice would be Lahav Shani but I don’t think the orchestra can realistically hire a white male.

    • Anon says:

      The obvious choice for LA now is Klaus Mäkelä, who used to be Esa-Pekka Salonen’s assistant for his Ring cycle in Finland. There was precedent for Concertgebouworkest and LA Philharmonic sharing a music director, and Yuja is very close to the orchestra.

      • Michel Lemieux says:

        Terrible idea. Klaus Mäkelä is a very young, uneven conductor who isn’t musically mature. His Sibelius cycle is all over the place, with the 2nd sounding amazing and the third sounding tired and incoherent.

        By the time 2026 rolls around, Klaus and Yuja may not be together anymore.

    • kh says:

      If NYC can hire a Venezuelan with close ties to Chavez and recently rehabilitated relationship to the Venezuelan government, then LA can certainly ignore the critics and continue to hire “a white male”.

  • Buck Hill Boy says:

    Dudamel is a person of color.

  • Gabriel Parra Blessing says:

    According to today’s identitarian nomenclature, Dudamel *is* a so-called “POC” as he’s Latino, sorry, Latinx. Being one myself (Hispanic or Latino but by god, NEVER that Latinx abomination), I honestly couldn’t care less if he’s Venezuelan or Martian. I’m glad he got the post because he’s a terrific conductor. Saw him conduct Prokofiev 5 with the NYP years ago and it was fabulous. Knew then it was just a matter of time before he was leading that orchestra. Took a bit longer than I expected but here we are. Congratulations, maestro.

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    Diversity wins! Let us celebrate the first Latin American Music Director of the NY Phil. Should this not be included in the headline?
    Have your cake, everyone!

    Now his base will be closer to Europe. Good move

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Dudamel’s national origin will not be any more important to New Yorkers than that of Zubin Mehta. Only his ability with the orchestra and the charisma to engage audiences. He is apparently clever enough to tip-toe around Venezuelan politics.

  • zweito says:

    “A lot of us think,” Zubin Mehta once said, “why not send our worst enemy to the New York Philharmonic and finish him off, once and for all.”
    Once upon a time, Simon Rattle sat in NYPO rehearsal, then swore he would never conduct that ensemble.

    • Mario Lutz says:

      Simon swore by that really?
      That he quickly admitted that he was not up to Dvorak, Gustav Mahler or Toscanini… not even Kurt Masur!

    • Mario Lutz says:

      That he quickly admitted that he was not up to Dvorak, Gustav Mahler or Toscanini… not even contemporary Kurt Masur!

    • Robin Mitchell-Boyask says:

      The legend is that Rattle’s response to a question of why not NY? was “I like me balls.”

      • MWnyc says:

        Some years ago a journalist asked him about that legend. Rattle reportedly “roared with laughter” and replied, “I might’ve said that.”

  • Singeril says:

    Dudamel has brought energy and interest to the audience of the LA Phil. I’m sure he will do the same for the NY Phil…which needs that push of energy. He is going to play very well in NYC and with that audience which is just waiting for this shot in the arm. There are few orchestras in the world that wouldn’t want that kind of interest and energy.

    • Anon says:

      Both NY and LA audiences are generally enthusiastic for most classical music. The hall is nearly always full for both orchestras for programs they repeat four times.
      Drawing an enthusiastic audience is not a problem either orchestra faces.
      Loss of interest in classical music is a small city problem.

  • J says:

    If dudamel is considered a big beast, then we are in quite a rut…

  • Mr. Ron says:

    A coup for New York. I expect LA will hire a woman. The Dude is very, very good. He can also sell. I think New York’s best hire since Bernstein.

  • MacroV says:

    Obviously they’re not going to get Petrenko or Chailly. I would have thought Rouvali, Lintu, or Malkki might have been prospects. I might like Malkki to replace Dudamel in LA, though.

    In any case, I don’t think this is bad for LA; 17 years is a good tenure, time for both sides to move on.

    • PleaseGodNo says:

      If Malkki replaces Dudamel, there is going to be a line of musicians jumping of the roof of the building. She would be a cancer on the organization

  • Sartor says:

    Last time around, the musicians of the orchestra pleaded with the management to appoint Semyon Bychkov, a truly outstanding musician, who wanted the job. The management didn’t listen. Now, as Norman correctly observes, there wasn’t a worthier candidate who had any interest.
    I am not a Dudamel fan, but he has potential, and, hopefully, will grow into the role.

  • Helen Kamioner says:

    bueno for new york city

  • Minnesota says:

    Or, perhaps, Borda ran out of ideas.

  • Nick2 says:

    I was at the NYPO concert when Dudamel made his debut. Most of the subscribers around me were comparing him to Alan Gilbert who had only recently appointed. The consensus by a large margin was the wish that Dudamel had been appointed instead of Gilbert! Hopefully these same subscribers are now pleased!

    • MacroV says:

      All these people ragging on Alan Gilbert, who ended up crying all the way to guest gigs with the world’s A-list orchestras, and directorships of a world-class opera house and a great German orchestra.

      • sonicsinfonia says:

        “Great” German orchestra/ NDR Philharmonie? Seriously? They are a more than capable radio orchestra with a wonderful hall of their own to play in. Great? Hmm

        • MacroV says:

          Every orchestra is good these days. And as you say, they play in a great hall; sounds like a good situation to me.

  • Paul Sekhri says:

    How about the simple fact that Dudamel is an incredible musician and conductor, that Deborah Borda is an unparalleled brilliant music administrator, and the New York Phil is one of the worlds greatest orchestras. Makes sense to me. And as a New Yorker, personally, I am beyond thrilled!

  • CSOA Insider says:

    Congratulations to Maestro Dudamel, the NY Phil, and Ms Borda. Along with the renovated hall and the changes to programming, this is a remarkable operation that raises the Orchestra’s profile further in the US and on the world stage for many years to come.

  • Save the MET says:

    After the boring Gilbert mistake and Jaap not living up to his promise, they finally agreed to pay for a great musical figure in the Dude. LA Phil supporters are literally pissed off this morning. The NY Phil Board missed out on Muti after Masur, as they decided not to pay and the NY Phil’s loss became Chicago’s gain.

    • MacroV says:

      I don’t know why people consider Gilbert to be a mistake; he changed the DNA of the Philharmonic, making them as interesting as they’ve been in my lifetime.

      I imagine most LA Phil supporters these days understand that 17 years is a long enough tenure, and that their orchestra is well positioned to get another great leader.

      The Philharmonic would never have landed Muti; the CSO has an ability to lure people who insist they’re not interested in a U.S. music directorship.

  • Karden says:

    “LA Phil supporters are literally pissed off this morning.”

    Salonen was its conductor for 17 years and now Dudamel, by the time he finishes in 2026, will have generally duplicated the same length of time.

    Various people start having a “same ‘ol, same ‘ol” feeling after they’ve been in the same workplace or around the same colleagues for too many years. Or they become skittish that if they don’t change things up, they’ll be viewed as timid, apathetic or too non-adventurous.

    The concert goers of the LA Phil should feel the same way about what they’re accustomed to seeing on the podium. 2009 to 2026 will have been a pretty good run.

  • Lt. Kije says:

    There is no conductor I am more consistently underwhelmed by than GD. I’ve heard him conduct Berlin and LA and each time left frustrated by the audience’s post-concert exuberance. This is before getting to the point that, although NY fixed (read: financed their way out of) the hall situation, that the orchestra is lacking in quality both nationally and internationally. I’m thinking of one principal player whom shall remain nameless but I find to be consistently underwhelming despite the prevailing opinions of his playing. Living in NY, I will continue to spend my concert dollars in other cities both in the U.S. and abroad.

    • Couperin says:

      I’ll go out on a limb and guess OBOE

      • Sisko24 says:

        Could be any one of the principals depending on who is being compared with whom, right? If you were around in the 1980s and 1990s, you’d never be able to compare the NY Phil principal players to anyone else because they had the incomparable Baxtresser, Drucker, Robinson, LeClair, Smith, Alessi, Myers, Dicterow, etc. All things are relative……

    • just saying says:

      Agreed. When I lived in NY, I was so much more impressed by all the visiting orchestras (not to mention Philly), then by the NY Phil. Of course, the concert hall may have had something to do it, then-Avery Fisher vs. hearing visiting orchestras at Carnegie lol

  • just saying says:

    Nowadays going from LA Phil to NYPhil is…perhaps a step slightly down?

  • Thomas M. says:

    So, Dudamel is leaving Mickey Mouse for Murder Inc. Not a wise move on his part.

    • Michel Lemieux says:

      Dudamel will be eaten alive in New York. In LA he has been consistently treated like a god. Once the bloom is off the rose in NYC,

      Meanwhile, LA Phil is already working on Dudamel’s replacement.

      It is my understanding that Mirga is probably the top name on the list with Malkki being a close second. Alex Ross (The LA- residing New Yorker Magazine critic) is already openly rooting for Malkki.

      There is NO WAY that the woke LA Phil will hire a white male for the MD position so you can forget about Salonen, Thielemann, Makela, Rattle, Honeck, or Shani.