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Deborah Borda Agrees to Take the Reins of the New York Philharmonic

March 15, 2017

For an arts executive to move from one city to another is nothing unusual. But today’s announcement of Los Angeles Philharmonic President and Chief Executive Officer Deborah Borda, 67, returning to head the New York Philharmonic is a bombshell in the music world, greeted with banner headlines.

The “return” is after 17 years of an extraordinary run in Los Angeles, lifting an important organization to stratospheric heights, with the completion of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003, the hiring of conductor Gustavo Dudamel in 2009, and unique financial security noted by the Los Angeles Times in its sorrowful farewell (“In a startling coup, New York lures L.A. Phil chief Deborah Borda”) today:

... she also erased a multimillion-dollar deficit that she inherited and turned the L.A. Phil into the most prosperous symphony in the country, with the largest budget. Borda may have a reputation for being a tough negotiator, but the L.A. Phil is believed to have the highest salaries for symphony orchestra players anywhere and has become a model for arts institutions everywhere.

Another L.A. Times headline of the news said Borda’s departure that it “sends the arts world spinning.” The Washington Post called it “a bombshell announcement.” In New York, where the orchestra is dealing with big changes and challenges, the news was also termed a “coup,” but a very promising one, as reported by the New York Times:

So it was nothing short of a coup for the troubled Philharmonic to announce on Wednesday that it had poached one of the most successful arts administrators in the nation to become its next president and chief executive officer.

Ever since her graduation in the 1970s from Bennington College and the Royal College of Music, Borda has been a prominent music executive, having served as executive director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra; president and managing director of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Borda’s seven-year-long run with the San Francisco Symphony consisted of serving as artistic administrator, 1979-1984, and general manager, 1984-1986.

As the music world is still trying to figure out the reason (or reasons) for the switch, Anne Midgette wrote in the Washington Post: “Does this return offer her a chance to realize her vision for the orchestra in the company of a new music director? Or did she want to live in the same city as her longtime partner, Coralie Toevs, the chief development officer of the Metropolitan Opera? Or did the board just offer her a boatload of money?”

On the issue of compensation, a “raise” may well be possible because reports of her annual salary in L.A. range from $1.6 million in 2011 to $1.8 million most recently. Borda will start in New York in September, and she left timing and details of leaving Los Angeles up to the “pleasure of the board.”

Borda said in her statement about the L.A. Phil. announcement: “Leaving [Gustavo Dudamel] and indeed my L.A. Phil family is not easy, but my solace is in returning to my home and my family. I have been blessed to work with such courageous and loving partners. The institution is in a robust and healthy state both artistically and financially and is wonderfully positioned to continue to make history... and it will!”

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].