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The Dudamel Succession Simulation

The sky is falling, the end draws nigh: the Gustavo Dudamel era is over in LA.

​Or at least it will be when he departs for New York in 2026. If over the past few weeks you’ve noticed distant moaning of a westerly origin, ​i​t’s likely the sound of the newly-assembled LA Phil search committee, going name by name down a whiteboard of possible successors, circling contenders, erasing pretenders. It’s a lengthy and unenviable process.

But what if we could bypass the process – or at least speed it up – and get a short list together faster?

Today we’ll do just that, using something rigged up in the Classical Dark Arts lab called the Data-driven Utility for Determining Artistic Merit and Evaluating Leadership, or D.U.D.A.M.E.L. It’s an algorithm for identifying and evaluating potential candidates for the LA Phil search committee. DUDAMEL crunches spreadsheets of data extracted from across the web and narrows the search to a manageable handful of candidates. Easy-peasy.

For inputs I polled well-placed folks in the industry, and noted the few writers brave (or foolish) enough to weigh in on the selection process. I surveyed music groups on Facebook and Reddit, as well as some surprisingly active, old-school music chat forums. I scraped lists and listicles of emerging young conductors. I also sniped the names of all the Dudamel Fellows since 2009, as well as the winners and runners-up from conducting contests like the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition, and Sir Georg Solti International Conductors’ Competition. This process yielded 129 names.

Then it was time to slop together data for each conductor. These included search results; mentions, follows and likes on social media; mentions across well-trafficked classical music sites; the entirety of each conductor’s recorded output, both audio and video; and each conductor’s relative popularity in the Los Angeles market. All that gets run through the DUDAMEL algorithm, which organizes, analyzes and weights the data before finally kicking out a list of names with a job-fitness ranking.

Bear in mind that the most important factors in a conductor search include the conductor’s rapport with the orchestra, their area(s) of expertise, their skill in handling personnel matters, as well as other considerations like audience enthusiasm. These are modelable in some sense, but not in this first version of D.U.D.A.M.E.L. We’re creating the short list. Let the committee do the rest!


So who made the list? Glad you asked.

Some new faces, some old favorites.


Our project begins by asking prying questions about conductors on popular search engines. How old are they? Married or divorced? Ever been arrested? The people want to know! From there we progress to finer-grained details – on Wikipedia, or the artist’s agency bio page, or their personal website – and then on to Youtube, where you start to notice time unraveling. An hour ago (swear to god it was only five minutes) I knew nothing about this person. Now I’ve seen them conduct Xenakis at the Proms, endured an awkward interview on a Schenectady CBS affiliate, and discovered wobbly footage of them in a conducting masterclass at Sorbonne in 2011. Sensational.

Using these few sites as tools for an initial assessment of public interest, here are some names that land at the top of the pile:

NameSearch hitsYoutube resultsNumber of Wikipedia footnotes (English only)
Gustavo Dudamel780000152042
Klaus Mäkelä15300017313
Daniel Barenboim3180001730142
Simon Rattle23500084368
Zubin Mehta223000102047
Yannick Nézet-Séguin12200058943
Antonio Pappano15900054821
Valery Gergiev17200074946
Myung-whun Chung16500038011
Riccardo Muti181000116044
Andris Nelsons8020043238
Esa-Pekka Salonen11100051867
Marin Alsop11300045156
Michael Tilson Thomas13100034928
Lionel Bringuier609001935
Riccardo Chailly10200043927
Franz Welser-Möst8970039419
Daniel Harding6680040519
Christian Thielemann7850039727

Now we’ve got results for our field across three categories. (If you’re interested, the search formulation was “firstname lastname conductor” and “ ‘firstname lastname conductor’” to minimize search clutter. Your mileage may vary.) But our job is to identify and evaluate lesser-known candidates, too. So this is just a start.


Social media are an inescapable and sometimes regrettable part of online life. And while social media, smartphones, and a lack of IRL friends seem to have awakened in us some temporarily unsolvable malaise, they can and do tell us interesting things about public figures, if sometimes inadvertently.

Here’s an example to start:

NameIG followersTwitter followersFacebook followersSumAgeSum/Age
Gustavo Dudamel548000815700110000024637004258659.52381
Alondra de la Parra1390003025003990008405004220011.90476
Daniel Barenboim15100054000421000626000807825
Teddy Abrams72914064199000210355356010.142857
Michael Tilson Thomas2150012380052507197807782535.987179
Riccardo Muti160004437123000143437821749.231707
Yannick Nézet-Séguin658002730043654136754482849.041667
Lorenzo Viotti10900004600113600323550
Simon Rattle009709597095681427.867647
Valery Gergiev7530012200087500691268.115942
Marin Alsop21000157003989776597661160.560606
Nathalie Stutzmann1150035215770872729571275.947368
Esa-Pekka Salonen9255371002000066355641036.796875
Teodor Currentzis335006300066350511300.980392
Pablo Heras-Casado2180094083100062208461352.347826
Andris Nelsons19400117002851059610441354.772727
Christian Vásquez27300101002000057400391471.794872
Klaus Mäkelä4020011200580057200272118.518519
Diego Matheuz932256133400048935381287.763158
Antonio Pappano21800128210744300263682.5714286
Alan Gilbert360912500160003210956573.375
Karina Canellakis82956191140002848642678.2380952
Myung-whun Chung00250002500070357.1428571
Rafael Payare8858612494002438243567.0232558
Might need to scroll right/left to see all columns

Here we’ve rolled up conductors’ followers from Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Interestingly, if you then control for age (the far-right column) the list doesn’t change much. The old heads had a head-start career-wise, but social media are newer phenomena, and the playing field is more level.

My suspicion was that the action was mostly on Instagram these days but that is not the case – our candidates have over 3 million aggregate follows on Facebook, nearly as many as Insta (1.58 million) and Twitter (1.57 million) combined.

I don’t mean to infer anything by asking, but I wonder if anyone’s considered … buying followers? I guess I should first ask: are bot followers still a thing? If so, is it still gauche to pad the follower count with some friendly NPCs?


People get their first taste of classical info using search and Wikipedia and bending space-time in the Youtube spiral. But for hardcore consumers, a suite of sites offers granular news, niche recordings, exhaustive historical detail, and (mean-)spirited discussion of all these things. Our stops might include Bachtrack, ClassicsToday, Ludwig Van, NPR Classical, Sequenza21, Slippedisc, VAN, as well as groups on Reddit, Facebook (the best ones there are private), and so on.

Plugging our list into these sites yields a scattering of familiar names. Here are the 15 most prominent:

  1. Christian Thielemann
  2. Simon Rattle
  3. Gustavo Dudamel
  4. Kirill Petrenko
  5. Daniel Barenboim
  6. Fabio Luisi
  7. Valery Gergiev
  8. Yannick Nézet-Séguin
  9. Marin Alsop
  10. Semyon Bychkov
  11. Daniel Harding
  12. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla
  13. Esa-Pekka Salonen
  14. Andris Nelsons
  15. Zubin Mehta

I should note that my inclusion of Dudamel is mostly for comparison’s sake. Dare the LA Phil hope for his return? Well, his NY Phil contract ends in 2031. It’s possible a 50-year-old Dudamel could boomerang back to LA like LeBron returning to the Cavs in 2014 – I’M COMING HOME and all that. But if things go sideways at Lincoln Center it’s easier imagining Dudamel in some sort of European sinecure – maestro’s lost weekend – before considering another one of these pressure-cooker positions.


There was a time when making records was the most important part of a musician’s job. The album was the artifact fans bought and pored over, dissected and debated. The recordings were synonymous with the artist: Glenn Gould and the Goldberg Variations; Fritz Reiner and the CSO doing Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra; Stravinsky Conducts Le Sacre du Printemps; and on and on. These were the hymnals we read from.

Now the streaming era has blown all that up. Yes, there’s more music than ever at our fingertips. But it’s sat on anodyne playlists and best-of compilations, spread across platforms with nary a word of context.

The crowdsourced project-cum-marketplace Discogs has done its fair share of musical reclamation, and in addition to selling rare physical copies of albums they have extensively cataloged album releases past and present. So for instance, running our list of 129 names through their database nets these top performers:

NameDiscogs credits
Daniel Barenboim1545
Zubin Mehta1083
Riccardo Muti852
Simon Rattle620
Riccardo Chailly581
Michael Tilson Thomas550
Valery Gergiev382
Esa-Pekka Salonen363
Iván Fischer285
Myung-whun Chung248

Barenboim is linked with an astounding 19 recorded projects per year, an untouchable feat. How do younger conductors fare? Here are some whippersnappers (under 50 years old, we’re grading on a curve) in ascent:

NameDiscogs credits / age
Daniel Harding2.833333333
Yannick Nézet-Séguin2.208333333
Gustavo Dudamel1.785714286
Ilan Volkov1.739130435
Andris Nelsons1.522727273
Kirill Karabits0.9787234043
Jakub Hrůša0.9523809524
Maxim Emelyanychev0.5882352941
James Gaffigan0.5681818182
Pablo Heras-Casado0.5652173913
Han-na Chang0.55

A classical music career can extend far beyond the range of “normal” ones, so in controlling for age we are simply dividing the number of projects by a conductor’s age. In other fields you’d say a career is roughly the time post-university to retirement. But conductors and musicians and composers are active outside those boundaries – and sometimes doing their best work, too.


Finally we find out who of these conductors is not just famous, but LA-famous. To do this we start with the archives at the town paper, the LA Times, and afterwards cross-reference with public radio site KUSC is the official streaming partner for the LA Phil, so a mention there is nice.

Here are LA’s top ten richest and most famous:

  1. Zubin Mehta
  2. Iván Fischer
  3. Esa-Pekka Salonen
  4. Daniel Barenboim
  5. Michael Tilson Thomas
  6. Simon Rattle
  7. James Conlon
  8. Valery Gergiev
  9. JoAnn Falletta
  10. Riccardo Muti

But we should consider younger candidates with as much upside as experience. If we scuttle all previous LA Phil conductors as well as anybody over 52 we get an entirely different top ten:

  1. Lionel Bringuier
  2. Yannick Nézet-Séguin
  3. Andris Nelsons
  4. Matthew Aucoin
  5. Pablo Heras-Casado
  6. Daniel Harding
  7. Matthias Pintscher
  8. Lahav Shani
  9. Alondra de la Parra
  10. Jakub Hrůša

Right. That’s us done. To the algorithm!


The Data-driven Utility for Determining Artistic Merit and Evaluating Leadership has evaluated candidates and produced a first draft of our simulated search. Let’s have a look.

Gustavo Dudamel100.00%
Yannick Nézet-Séguin85.07%
Andris Nelsons85.07%
Daniel Harding85.07%
Alondra de la Parra52.24%
Pablo Heras-Casado52.24%
Klaus Mäkelä50.75%
Vladimir Jurowski47.76%
Lahav Shani46.27%
Paolo Bortolameolli37.31%
Lorenzo Viotti35.82%
Teodor Currentzis35.82%
Karina Canellakis35.82%
François-Xavier Roth32.84%
Lionel Bringuier31.34%
Jakub Hrůša31.34%
Kirill Petrenko29.85%
Teddy Abrams20.90%
Christian Vásquez20.90%
Diego Matheuz20.90%
Rafael Payare20.90%
Domingo Hindoyan20.90%
Dalia Stasevska20.90%
Kahchun Wong20.90%
Enluis Montes Olivar20.90%
Matthew Aucoin16.42%
Matthias Pintscher16.42%
James Gaffigan16.42%
Santtu-Matias Rouvali14.93%
Maxim Emelyanychev14.93%
David Afkham14.93%
Joana Mallwitz14.93%
Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla14.93%

Unsurprisingly, DUDAMEL rates its namesake a 100% match for the position. The rest of the field are measured against him, such that Andris Nelsons is an 85.07% match, Karina Canellakis is 35.82%, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla is 14.93%, and anyone else is out of consideration for this round.

But now it’s fair to admit that I’ve omitted a key piece of information: that the LA Phil – at least according to early speculation – is more likely to hire a woman for the position. We can easily adjust parameters to only include, say, the ten highest-rated women for the job:

Nathalie Stutzmann68.66%
Alondra de la Parra67.16%
Han-na Chang55.22%
Karina Canellakis52.24%
Susanna Mälkki47.76%
Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla46.27%
Elim Chan35.82%
Dalia Stasevska20.90%
Gemma New16.42%
Joana Mallwitz14.93%

Now that’s more like it. For this, DUDAMEL automatically expanded the age range, which rockets Atlanta Symphony music director Nathalie Stutzmann to the top of our list, and rightly includes former LA Phil principal guest conductor Susanna Mälkki as well. We’re happy about both.

The algorithm also recalculated fitness ratings, which explains the difference between Alondra de la Parra in the first list (52.24%) and the second (67.16%). Our original list of 129 conductors predominantly features men, which is an unfortunate reflection of job searches like these. When it selects for women obviously all get a ranking boost.

So we have ten candidates, which is hardly a daunting number, and in fact at this point the search committee might simply book each for a week of hands-on orchestral work. The remaining considerations include polling the players, gauging audience reaction, and selecting someone. Done.


What we’ve done is a poor man’s version of a McKinsey consult, using rudimentary survey methods, an excessive amount of searching and scraping, and AI assistance to move the process along. This modeling reveals a rather large deficit in publicly-available, quantifiable knowledge about conductors specifically, and classical music more generally.

It’s not ideal that our results so closely mirror conventionally-accepted picks. As Tyler Cowen notes, “We tend to visualize future events very poorly and with a deficit of proper imagination.” So in that spirit we should want to surface more wildcard picks, the less-obvious candidates – even at the risk of being wrong. Sounds like a job for DUDAMEL 2.0.


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