Breaking: Boston Symphony raids LA Phil for new CEO

Breaking: Boston Symphony raids LA Phil for new CEO


norman lebrecht

May 15, 2023

The Boston Symphony Orchestra has just named Chad Smith as its next president and CEO, starting in four months’ time.

Smith, 51, is presently CEO of the LA Philharmonic.

He is an LA Phil lifer, working there for more than 20 years, mostly with Gustavo Dudamel as music director. He succeeds Gail Samuel, also from the LA Phil. Samuel was ousted last September after trying to rush through rapid changes.

If Boston found Samuel hard to bear, Smith has a reputation at the LA Phil for high-handedness with staff members.

This may well be an interesting appointment.

What follows is press release stuff:

From the BSO – “Chad is an extraordinarily accomplished executive with a track record of unrivaled success at producing environments where orchestras thrive, audiences experience orchestral music in both traditional and non-traditional ways, and one-of-a-kind partnerships flourish,” said John Loder, Vice Chair of the BSO’s Board of Trustees and Chair of the Search Committee that recommended that the Board appoint Smith. “A tested leader with deep experience in all aspects of orchestral administration, and a conservatory-trained classical musician, Chad possesses a singular ability to balance new programming initiatives with the critical preservation of artistic tradition at the highest level. The BSO has a long history of setting standards for the entire orchestral field, and Chad brings to the BSO a demonstrated commitment to sustaining excellence and increasing impact.”

From the LA Phil – The Los Angeles Philharmonic congratulates Chad Smith on his appointment as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

For more than 20 years, Chad has committed his passion, energy, intellect, and talents to establishing the Los Angeles Philharmonic as one of the premier orchestras in the world and an invaluable asset to the County of Los Angeles. Under his leadership, the LA Phil expanded its artistic ambitions and grew its audiences, both in person and through multiple media platforms. Chad’s tireless work ethic and intrepid approach shepherded the LA Phil through the COVID pandemic, and he led the organization in reaffirming its steadfast commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility. His devotion to arts education through his support and expansion of YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles) will ensure that his legacy in Los Angeles will continue for generations to come. During his time here, Chad vigorously pursued innovative programming and became known as one of the industry’s great champions of new music. He will always be part of the LA Phil family, and we wish him all the best in Boston.


  • SfGirl says:

    Wow. He abandoned ship during a difficult transition for the orchestra. Boston sure it wants someone with that kind of character?

  • judy says:

    can you say more about his “high-handed” reputation ?

  • LAP musician says:

    Wishing Boston good luck with their new venture! As a member of the orchestra, I am relieved to see Chad go. It was disappointing to see that he couldn’t even show his face on the Zoom meeting this morning to break the news himself. Chad never really cared about the musicians; he never even bothered to greet us in the hallways. It was clear that his main focus was pleasing the board and the press. Hopefully, we’ll get someone who will not only prioritize the interests of the board but also genuinely care about the musicians

    • Long time Orchestra musician says:

      I’ll never understand Orchestra management types that act like they despise the musicians. It’s a symbiotic relationship; we the musicians rely on them to manage the institution in challenging times for arts in general, and, on the flip side, we are the reason they have their current jobs in the first place. Nobody is going to support the organization or buy tickets to watch them manage.

  • Blogger says:

    All hail Chad the Impaler. Long may he reign!

  • Anon says:

    Wow. LA Phil has not done a simultaneous transition of both music director and executive leadership since before Mehta’s tenure. This will also be the first time since 1961 where they have to pick a new music director without Ernest Fleischmann’s input. Big changes ahead for them.

    Who is going to be the successor? Ara Guzelimian? Mark Williams? Someone from within again? The role is oversized in LA and will not be easy to fill.

  • CarlD says:

    Sorry, Norman, I find it pretty outrageous that you would slag off someone like that w/o any attribution — or seeming reason, frankly. Give him a bloody chance, eh?

  • samach says:

    Herd mentality.

    Strange: Everybody wants a bit of LA, but it also seems that everybody wants to leave LA.

    The paradox is that while Boston and NY try to modernize to the 21st century by raiding 20th century LA management and talent, it is LA that will ultimately continue to keep up with the times by handing off its old hands left over from the last century.

    Both Borda and Smith spoke nostalgically of coming home (to NY and Boston, respectively), but it looks awfully like going home to retire.

    • Anon says:

      What Rogan says about LA is true. It’s depressing being in such a corrupt, deteriorating, horribly run city and state. I’d run too if I could. The irony is the orchestra sounds utterly fantastic, far eclipsing
      the talent in its management.

  • Fly on the Wall says:

    High-handed with staff is an understatement. Cold and distant, petty and cruel. Many of the staff and the orchestra are overjoyed that he is leaving.

  • Beatitude says:

    Although the LA Phil continues to thrive in every measurable way, the loss of it’s Music/Artistic Director and CEO in only 3 months time is clearly a cause for concern. I say this as a Southern California resident and long-time subscriber/patron of the orchestra. My hope – it’s more of a pipe-dream – is that Deborah Borda might return a final time to position the orchestra for long-term stability and success in light of these unanticipated circumstances. The timing’s particularly advantageous, given that she’s stepping down from the NY Phil next month. She would have the required time to properly groom and prepare a successor, and – ironically – lead the search to find Dudamel’s replacement. With all due respect to Marin Alsop and Nathalie Stutzmann, naming the first woman to lead a world-renown American orchestra would cap her lasting legacy as classical music’s most influential chief executive in this century.

  • Martin says:

    Could not be happier. Boston has been adrift basically since the mid-1990s. Someone has to gather the tumbleweeds arojnd Mass Ave and Huntington…

    • Herr Doktor says:

      Couldn’t disagree more, and I’m a long-time BSO subscriber who usually hears 10-15 concerts a season.

  • CA says:

    Gail can go back to LA. Lol

  • Ed says:

    Are their sources for the high handedness?

  • Guest 123 says:

    Several thoughts. He is a terrible person to work with. When discussing the news with many in the industry the first response was universally negative.

    He and Gail were up for the post when Simon got it, then they placed pressure and ousted him. Why after finally securing his dream job would he leave, especially so soon? My guess is landmines. I bet the orchestra costs are gonna far outstrip earning and creating deficits. Or maybe he couldn’t handle the world with no Dudamel, the worlds most “popular” living conductor.

    Me thinks he didn’t want to be associated with the anticipated downturn of the LA Phil either in profile, budget, artistic quality. Why make that his career, the one who dropped the ball at the 1 yard line of the self-professed most forward thinking orchestra around. All bubbles burst.

    • Anon says:

      LA Phil famously makes most of its money through the Hollywood Bowl. The most “popular” living conductor has some, but not much to do with it. They are ending this season with a $160 million income according to LA Times. That is twice what NY Phil earns in a season *before* the pandemic. If you count only ticket sales, the difference in income between LA and NY is *four times* in 2019, thanks to the Hollywood Bowl. Dudamel or no Dudamel, orchestral finances is not among the top items to worry about in LA. This is all well known even outside “the industry”.

      • Anon says:

        Oh really? Certain critics in NY would have us believe that LA makes its money by playing new music which attracts enthusiastic audiences.

  • Paul Sekhri says:

    What a coup for Boston.

  • Herr Doktor says:

    As a longtime BSO subscriber, why do I have a bad feeling about this hire? Boston is Boston, and LA is LA.

    Credit Mark Volpe and his leadership team for doing a fantastic job of bringing in a new (i.e. younger) audience through outreach, marketing, and a sustained effort by the BSO to extend itself. This is essential. That said, Boston trying to import what may have worked in LA is a profound mistake – and this is the conclusion I’m left with, given that the BSO has now hired two principals from the LAPO.

    I do not think the LA model will work in Boston. And personally, I do not believe the LA model is even right for Boston nor is it a model that I am personally interested in. Boston has a different musical culture than LA, and I think it’s essential to build upon Boston’s musical culture that has a profound respect and centralization of the core Austro-Germanic, French, Russian, and Scandinavian repertoires (with of course a smattering of American, British, and other European music) rather than to “evolve” or replace it. I believe doing so is the right pathway to expanding the BSO’s audience.

    Notwithstanding the preachings of certain predictable classical music critics in NY and Boston who offer the same tired tropes about the new to centralize and expand offerings of new music and from new faces, I think a different and more exciting pathway is to explore “forgotten” music, from composers off the beaten path that’s still entirely worthwhile. Perhaps a specific series could be programmed to appear intermittently throughout a season called “Lost/Unfamiliar Masterpieces” or something like that. One has to be careful what is programmed in such a series–it needs to be carefully curated, but focusing on some magnificent though unfamiliar works such as Josef Suk’s Asrael Symphony and A Summer’s Tale (my vote for his greatest work, a symphony in all but name), or Gouvy’s 4th Symphony, or Richard Wetz’ 3rd Symphony, etc., could be delightful for Boston’s audience so long as this is not overdone. The point is not to put forward these specific works as music that should be played in repertory for the public (although that’s certainly the case), but rather, to bring awareness to lots of EXCELLENT music out there that isn’t getting performed and deserves to be heard. Taking the audience on THAT musical journey could be a breath of fresh air and really exciting.

    BALANCE is the key, doing some of this but not so much that it dilutes the appropriate focus on the core repertoire. And augment it as well with intermittent new music although not a predominance of it.

    • Anon says:

      Much of the new music done now in Los Angeles are unvetted commisions. It doesn’t work in LA either.

  • Paul Wells says:

    Updated Slippedisc comment rules:

    1. The subject of a story is always its villain.
    2. Nobody ever changes jobs for the challenge or to help. Their reasons are always venal. They are always rats fleeing sinking ships.
    3. If you keep a job, you’re wearing out your welcome and driving audiences away. If you leave a job, you’re abandoning your long-suffering colleagues. There is no correct amount of time to stay in any position.
    4. Similarly there is no correct amount of Beethoven to play. Playing any amount of Beethoven is tired. Playing anything but Beethoven is proof that you are woke. When denouncing woke-ism, use a tone that resembles Rudyard Kipling having a stroke.
    5. The nominal topic of this website is classical music, but in fact its theme is divergence from the norm and the correct tone is disapproval. Anyone who behaves differently from Carlos Kleiber — whether by dressing too colourfully, having ovaries or expressing any opinion — is to be punished.

  • Karden says:

    “High-handedness” and some of the less than glowing reviews posted above (from objective observers?) about Smith make me wonder if the LAP for the past few years has been both hit by a bullet and is now trying to dodge it. With the economy (of the US and world) entering troubled times, today is not ideal for dealing with operational fractures.

    Meanwhile, across the street at the Colburn School, one of its major staffers (a dancer, not a musician) appointed about 3 years ago is also departing, but a successor to him has already been appointed. A new studio is being built for such employees, so when it comes to certain organizations (BBC, etc) you have to wonder what’s going on below the surface. A lot of roiling waters, sort of like the Sussexes and the Windsors? Stay tuned.

    As for if the LAP is dodging a bullet, if its next main conductor – in terms of image, talent and charisma (some of that intangible) – doesn’t come off as sloppy seconds that will be another tricky maneuver.

  • NotToneDeaf says:

    If the BSO had issues with Samuel, just wait . . . . . It remains a mystery why these boards don’t do proper due diligence. All they’d have to do is put some feelers out around the industry. I suppose the Business Leaders and Society Ladies don’t think that the opinions of the great unwashed are worth listening to.

    • LA Lifer says:

      Very true. The challenges with this individual are widely known in the LA Phil and beyond. Either the BSO knew and didn’t care, or they didn’t know. Not sure which is worse.

    • Sisko24 says:

      Your comment is a good one and makes valid points. From what I can tell, many board members are there for reasons other than the direct elevation of the orchestra. Sometimes they get ‘put’ there by one of their corporate sponsors who want a say in things. Too often, they are there for vanity/ego reasons….not for the music.

    • Anon says:

      Or talk to the musicians.
      There’s a thought.

  • Michel Lemieux says:

    It was said many years ago that “Chicago is known for its brass, Cleveland for its strings, and LA for its management”. This was in the Fleischmann days, of course.

    The board will probably bring back Gail Samuel rather than bring in a new executive who will rattle the cage and bring in new blood.

    • M2N2K says:

      Why “bring back” to the LA Phil’s top job someone who just last year failed rather decisively in Boston? That does not look likely to me. If bringing back is the preferred option, then it should make much more sense to go after Deborah Borda who succeeded repeatedly in recent past both in LA and in NY: she is not only “available”, but is probably still fully capable of giving at least a few more good and strong productive years to the LA Phil that would certainly help during the orchestra’s transition to its next Music Director.

    • Anon says:

      I am so sick of that tired quote.

    • Anon says:

      She does not have the looks or charm like Smith, but she is an organizational genius.

    • RA says:

      Sad, but true.

  • Whoopsiedoodle says:

    Cruel, haughty, duplicitous, obsessed with flash. “Heavy-handedness with staff” is a comic understatement for those of us who have had the thoroughly-earned displeasure of working with him. He cares not for his players, nor for most people — only his precious ideas.

    His reputation as a programming god has not translated to effective leadership at the executive level.

    Godspeed, Boston.

  • Anon says:

    Here are just a few things Boston has to look forward to.
    Multi media productions in which musicians become secondary while playing in the dark. Costumes, directors, choreographers, film and staging the best a donor’s money can buy.
    He hired DEI executives with no backround in performing arts while the orchestra was still reeling from Covid and receiving a fraction of base salary.
    Mediocre repertoire and conductors as a result of the above as well as endless unvetted commissions.

    An ego that asserts that his political agenda and desire to be innovative (code for being personally noticed by media) is far more important than preservation of the great orchestral repertoire and traditions we all dedicated our lives to. He has ignored multiple masterpieces, or possibly does not know of them.
    During the 100th anniversary he spent $$$ on light shows, commissions, productions, parties, never considering the opportunity to use the anniversary year to help the the musicians with a dire pension situation.
    That can wait until the next contract negotiation, though he ignored it then as well.

    He offered the orchestra a bleak 5 year contract, on the back of the Covid scare, which was the first contract proposal rejected by the orchestra in 50 years. And that rejection was immediately followed by news NY Phil was getting back pay for all lost covid income, and prior to a financially successful Hollywood Bowl season.

    He FORCED the vaccine on all musicians and audience with alarming arrogance, and without moral hesitation, “It’s the right thing, it’s the ONLY thing to do, so it must be done.” Those who hesitated were treated with contempt and cruelty.

    And, well, he lost Gustavo.
    Gustavo truly loves his orchestra. So there’s that.
    Good luck Boston, time to sharpen your fashion sense.

  • LAP Staff says:

    He was a huge jerk to everyone. He never congratulated the artists or musicians. He also didn’t even give a thought to say Hello to any of us. I am very happy to see him leaving. Hope Boston has a back up ready.

  • Anon says:

    This is from an insider within the Boston Symphony:
    Heard on the street behind Symphony Hall. Boston Symphony Orchestra is ready to strike very soon, before major European tour, as CEO Barbara Hostetter refuses to negotiate seriously and contract expires on August ? in the middle of the tour. Also, several BSO principals are ready to start legal action under MEPA. Hopes were high that a contract similar to the LA Phil contract would come with new Managing Director who is also coming from LA. Major publicity of this sad but extremely interesting story of Barbara’s mismanagement is likely to follow.

  • Anon says:

    Connected with this hiring is the following news: Heard on the street behind Symphony Hall. Boston Symphony Orchestra is ready to strike very soon, before major European tour, as CEO Barbara Hostetter refuses to negotiate seriously and contract expires on August 30, 2023 in the middle of the tour. Also, several BSO principals are ready to start legal action under MEPA. Hopes were high that a contract similar to the LA Phil contract would come with new Managing Director who is also coming from LA. Major publicity of this sad but extremely interesting story of Barbara’s mismanagement is likely to follow.