By Robert D. Thomas
Southern California News Group
As you can see by the post ABOVE Deborah Borda (pictured left) is leaving her position as President and CEO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic to take a similar position with the New York Philharmonic, effective Sept. 15.
It is a move that has rocked the classical music world, but in reading the various press reports I was struck by two reasons she advanced.
First, the move means that she and her partner, Coralie Toevs, assistant general manager for development at the Metropolitan Opera, will now be able to live in the same city as opposed to being 2,500 miles apart. Second was this quote: “This is an opportunity,” she said [to L.A. Times critic Mark Swed), “that won’t come up again.”
That’s undeniably true. At age 67, Borda would not likely have the chance to return to her native New York City and take on the NYPO challenge (one that she had already tried before coming to Los Angeles). So if that floats her boat, my feeling upon reading the news was, “You go, girl!”
If the news was shocking to the music world, one presumes that it wasn’t completely unthinkable to the L.A. Phil board, at least not if that group was doing its normal due diligence. Executives leave for any number of reasons when they reach her age and, one hopes, the LAPO board has had in place some sort of succession plan. In the short term, the Phil’s management seems very strong and capable of moving forward while the board undertakes its search for Borda’s successor. Various reports indicate that planning for the orchestra’s centennial season in 2018-2019 is well underway.
Nonetheless, the news brings to an abrupt close a magnificent chapter in the Phil’s history. During Borda’s 17-year-tenure she has balanced budgets, helped increase the orchestra’s endowment from $45 million to about $276 million, led the organization as it achieved remarkable labor relations with its musicians (there hasn’t been a work stoppage in half a century), was integrally involved in the opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003, and — in perhaps her greatest decision — gambled on a very young Gustavo Dudamel to succeed Esa-Pekka Salonen as the L.A. Phil’s music director.
Borda has also been instrumental in continuing and expanding the Phil’s emphasis on creating new music, something that has made the LAPO the envy of the classical music world. In addition, she has nurtured an extensive number of young conductors who have moved on to major roles around the world, including Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Lionel Bringuier and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. In the upcoming season, Susanna Mälki will become the Phil’s Principal Guest Conductor, a title not used for more than 20 years at the Phil.
She certainly faces major challenges with the New York Philharmonic. The current music director, Alan Gilbert, leaves after this season and his replacement, Jaap van Zweden, doesn’t officially start until the 2018-2019 season. The Phil’s current home, David Geffen Hall (aka Avery Fisher Hall) will undergo a major renovation if Borda and her new board can manage to raise somewhere in the neighborhood of $400 million.
During the reconstruction the NYPO will be homeless for at least two years, although I suspect that Board will solve this problem with her usual innovative skills — in fact, I believe this will turn out to be the capstone of her tenure in New York.
I have only met Borda a couple of times and only, then, to say hello. Nonetheless, I — like everyone who has attended a Phil concert — owes her a huge “thank you” for her work here during the past 17 years. I hope for her sake and for the NYPO’s that she will be able to prove Thomas Wolfe wrong!
(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.