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L.A. Phil finds its new CEO in Seattle

L.A. Phil finds its new CEO in Seattle
Simon Woods was named the new CEO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. (Brandon Patoc)

The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s spring news earlier this year that its longtime president and CEO, Deborah Borda, was departing for New York sent the arts world spinning. Since then, one question has hung — or rung, like a symphonic triangle — in the air: Who would replace her?

The L.A. Phil answered that question Thursday by announcing that Simon Woods will become chief executive.

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Woods comes to Los Angeles from the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, where he has served as president and CEO since May 2011. Prior to that, he was chief executive of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

Borda led the L.A. Phil for 17 years, transforming the orchestra into a financially secure, internationally renowned institution — which was part of the appeal for Woods, he said in an interview.

"Everybody in our business has watched over the past 15 or 20 years as the L.A. Phil has gone from strength to strength," Woods said. "It has grown into this extraordinary artistic entity that's redefining how orchestras think and behave in their communities. And the prospect of being part of that was an exciting one."

The London native was also drawn to the city of Los Angeles, a place he called "more of a global city that it ever has been. L.A. has become one of the great cultural hubs of the world — and the L.A. Phil factors into that."

The orchestra's board chair, Jay Rasulo, said Woods was a natural fit for the organization.

"We set out to find a new CEO who embodied the values of the Los Angeles Philharmonic: musical excellence, innovation and social outreach. And Simon has demonstrated in his career that he has each of those in spades," Rasulo said. "In Seattle, he not only improved the reputation of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra artistically, but he also demonstrated his desire to make it a real civic citizen."

Woods will oversee an organization with an operating budget of $125 million this year and which recently announced a $500-million fundraising campaign in conjunction with its centennial season plans. When asked about his vision for the orchestra, Woods noted the centennial plans.

"This is a mature, successful, thriving organization. The depth of talent, the quality of thinking, the clarity of vision — you see all of that in the centennial plans that were just announced," Woods said. "My leadership approach is all about empowering people around me, facilitating the organization being successful and building connections around the community. It will come in due course what the vision is."

Woods previously served as president and CEO of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and vice president of artistic planning and operations at the Philadelphia Orchestra. He also worked as a record producer with London’s EMI Classics from the late 1980s to the late 1990s.

"Simon has a wonderful reputation, a great knowledge of music, a passion for music education," Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel said in a statement. "And [he] understands the intricacies of an organization as complex and unique as the LA Phil. I am very much looking forward to working with him as we head into our second century."

Woods takes his post on Jan. 22.

Follow me on Twitter: @debvankin

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