Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Enzo Fernandez and ….. Gustavo Dudamel? Winter trades and transfers offer flavorless title races some much-needed spice. And as basketball and football have seen shakeups, so too did the music world. Gustavo Dudamel — Venezuelan superstar conductor, hair model, and longtime music director of the LA Philharmonic — will switch coasts in 2026 and take up the helm of the New York Philharmonic.
“Of course!” you say. “Of course he’s doing it! Biggest job in the land! The biggest stage!” and you would be right. But this is more than a trade. We’re looking at an aggressive maneuver by a normally cautious organization to bring some left-coast swagger to the rotten apple.
The one who landed the plane here is NY Phil President and CEO Deborah Borda, the woman responsible for bringing Dudamel to the LA Phil in 2009. Borda jumped to Lincoln Center in 2017, and like a coach recruiting their favorite players — Mourinho texting Nemanja Matic to come to Roma, Ten Hag demanding the Glazers sign Antony — Borda worked Dudamel, gave him the big speech, ran down the list of predecessors (Toscanini, Mahler, Bernstein, etc.) and showed Dudamel where his name belonged. It worked.
This has been referred to as some kind of coup d’etat but if it is then it’s history’s slowest. In the classical music world plans are choreographed years in advance, and as a result both cities have a surfeit of time to prepare for the switch. (Much more interesting would’ve been for Dudamel to show up at Lincoln Center some packed Friday night and swagger out to the podium like AJ Styles at the 2016 Royal Rumble. This is the world I want to live in.)
Concomitant with this blockbuster signing is the speculation about the next conductor to take over at Walt Disney Hall. Alex Ross tips Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki as a front-runner, having already worked with the orchestra. Other hopefuls include Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, who helms the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; Mexican conductor Alondra de la Parra (the board should note her light, mostly European schedule right now); and — although it’s hard to say why — even former LA Phil director Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Who knows! Asking the prevailing internet oracle for insight into the search process yields an unappetizing word salad. Still, and to be fair, this is about the same response you get from the LA Phil PR department right now.
Thanks, we will surely check the orchestra’s website and social media accounts.
All this aside, three cheers for reddit user r/slylad, who correctly predicted the Dudamel selection weeks before it was announced.