The Dude is on the move — again.
Superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel surprised the music world late last week by announcing he is resigning from his position as music director of the Paris Opera after just two seasons. His contract was for six.
This is his second big career move of the year. In February, he announced he will be leaving the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2026 to become music and artistic director of the New York Philharmonic.
While that news was a disappointment to his many fans in Southern California, it did not come as a shock; it was an open secret that the New York orchestra had been courting him. Several observers noted that New York had one huge advantage over L.A.: It would base him much closer to his other job in Paris (as well as to his home in Spain).
So much for that thinking.
Stepping away from such a position in the middle of one’s contract is highly unorthodox in the classical music world, where schedules are often made years in advance. Dudamel’s only explanation, at least so far, is that he wants to spend more time with his family — a cliche that typically leads to rolled eyes.
In an interview with The New York Times, Paris Opera General Director Alexander Neef said the conductor “had expressed concerns beginning in January about his ability to fulfill his duties, including devoting the time needed for the intense performance and rehearsal schedule that opera demands.”
Intriguingly, he added, “I did not try to twist his arm.”
Veteran British music critic Norman Lebrecht put things more bluntly on his website Slipped Disc. “Rumors have been rustling for some time of tensions between [Dudamel and Neef],” he wrote, “but no one expected an instant breakdown.
“Interpret [this news] however you like, this is the biggest failure in Dudamel’s pristine career.”
Some see a potential bright side to the resignation. Deborah Borda, the NY Phil’s president and chief executive, is hoping it means Dudamel will be able to give more time to the orchestra between now and the start of his music directorship in the fall of 2026. He was scheduled to conduct Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin and Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel in Paris next season; it’s unclear whether that will now happen.
Coincidentally (or not?), the weekend of May 19–21 marked the first time Dudamel conducted the NY Phil since his appointment was announced. The audience was pumped: He received a seven-minute standing ovation after leading the orchestra in Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.
Critics, however, had far more mixed reactions.
“Dudamel persuasively and naturally guided the score’s many slight, important shifts of pace,” Zachary Woolfe wrote in The New York Times. “And yet missing from the evening was a certain degree of personality and depth. … The playing was poised, but it left a ways to go in profundity.”
Justin Davidson, in New York Magazine, had a similar reaction. “What I heard during much of the performance was an action-movie sequence of high-intensity flashes, one packet of astonishment after another, forming a narrative that became increasingly hard to follow,” he wrote. “Dudamel … creates a further illusion: He appears to be a greater conductor than he really is.”
Welcome to the Big Apple, maestro!
Dudamel finishes out the LA Phil’s 2022–2023 season June 1–4 at Walt Disney Concert Hall with an all-Mozart program featuring pianist Mitsuko Uchida.