Dudamel to take the NY Philharmonic reins in 2026

Wed Feb 08, 2023 at 12:56 pm
Photo: Chris Lee

Nearly a year and a half after music director Jaap van Zweden announced he would be leaving the New York Philharmonic after the 2023-2024 season, the orchestra has found their next leader in Gustavo Dudamel. 

Dudamel, the current music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, will serve as music director designate for the 2025-2026 season, then take over in New York starting with the 2026-2027 season for a five-year term, the orchestra announced on Tuesday. (An official press conference is scheduled for February 20.) Dudamel is one of the highest-salaried musicians in all of classical music; no terms of the deal with the Philharmonic were released.

Dudamel has been music director in Los Angeles since 2009, a post he began with celebratory renown after a decade as music director of the Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra in his native Venezuela. The conductor became the most famous alumnus of Venezuela’s “El Sistema” program of national, publicly financed music training for children and young people. 

His tenure in Los Angeles boosted that orchestra to greater prominence, in no small part due to Dudamel’s own public reputation, which reaches outside of the classical music world and into mass culture. As early as 2010, he was profiled on 60 Minutes.

That fame and public reach is no small part of his qualifications, and is likely to be a strong box-office draw. His reach in Los Angeles has been both an artistic and financial boon to that orchestra.

A half-century after the Leonard Bernstein era when he and the Philharmonic were the first names in classical music in America, that prospect is no doubt enticing to the orchestra’s  administration. For Dudamel’s part, he told The New York Times “What I see is an amazing orchestra in New York and a lot of potential for developing something important.”

This is also a capstone to Deborah Borda’s brief, but immensely consequential tenure as the orchestra’s president and chief executive. She is leaving that position in June of this year, having produced a renovated David Geffen Hall and now securing a new artistic head after several years of treading water with van Zweden as a lame-duck conductor. She also brought in engagements with a slew of talented podium guests, like Susanna Mälkki, Jakub Hrůša, and Manfred Honeck. Still, it’s hard to top the pop-culture celebrity of Dudamel who has appeared at a Super Bowl and inspired a television character (Mozart in the Jungle).

Dudamel’s musicianship is less settled, and until further details are released, the direction of the Philharmonic remains unclear. The conductor had a fruitful partnership with John Adams in Los Angeles, and has brought new music from Gabriela Ortiz to American audiences. His performances are colorful, energetic, and full of stylish episodes. Still, he has often shown a shaky grasp with large-scale form. Appearances with the LA ensemble and the Vienna Philharmonic in New York have been uneven, but his infrequent guest conducting of the New York Philharmonic has been much more successful.

What that all means for classical music lovers in New York will remain unclear until February 20, perhaps (although the orchestra still has the details of three full seasons to announce before Dudamel takes his post). To the Times, Dudamel described the situation here as a “completely different” culture than Los Angeles, both musically and in terms of the orchestra’s presence in the city’s cultural scene. He indicated he would like to replicate the youth education outreach he established on the West Coast.

For the musicians, Dudamel appears to have been a clear first choice. The Times quoted principal trumpet Chris Martin as saying “Everything comes alive with him, everything is as natural as breathing,” and revealed that for the conductors’ brief appearance leading a Schumann symphony cycle last spring, the players brought him gifts and notes.

Perhaps that will be the start of a beautiful friendship. As Dudamel told the Times, “There are no limits, especially in an orchestra with such a history. I see an incredible infinite potential of building something unique for the world.”

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