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Entertainment & Arts

L.A. Phil Chief Executive Simon Woods resigns, leaving supporters ‘stunned’

The L.A. Phil’s chief executive, Simon Woods, started in January 2018.
The L.A. Phil’s chief executive, Simon Woods, started in January 2018.
(Craig T. Mathew and Greg Grudt / Mathew Imaging)

The Los Angeles Philharmonic, in a surprise announcement just weeks before its season opener, said Chief Executive Simon Woods will depart the company immediately after less than two years on the job.

The announcement, by board chair Jay Rasulo, did not say why Woods is leaving. Woods assumed his position in January 2018. Rasulo and board chair designate Thomas L. Beckmen will serve as interim leadership until a new chief executive is named, the orchestra said.

With Simon Woods out at the L.A. Phil and L.A. Opera investigating Plácido Domingo, it’s time to look at companies’ No. 2s, stars of a new generation.

“The Los Angeles Philharmonic is an extraordinary organization in every respect. It has been my complete honor to lead it for almost two years,” Woods said in the announcement Monday. “However, after a great deal of reflection, I have concluded that my hopes and aspirations lie elsewhere, and as a result, I have tendered my resignation.”

Woods’ departure follows the orchestra’s historic and successful centennial season, and comes right before the start of the new season Oct. 3.

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Woods, a London native who studied conducting and composition at Cambridge University, came to the L.A. Phil from the Seattle Symphony, where he served as president and chief executive for more than six years. Prior to that, he was chief executive of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. In L.A., Woods replaced President and Chief Executive Deborah Borda, who led the organization for 17 years before departing to become president of the New York Philharmonic.

“The cultural ecology of every artistic institution is unique and particular, and a leader who works brilliantly in one setting may simply just not be right in another,” Borda said in an interview Monday after the announcement. “Bravo to Simon for his clarity, as it must have been a difficult decision.”

Woods has said that part of the appeal of coming to L.A. was inheriting from Borda a transformed orchestra that was financially secure and internationally renowned. Borda grew the L.A. Phil budget from $46 million in 1999 to $125 million when Woods arrived.

“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 told The Times upon the announcement of his appointment in November 2017. “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.”

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The L.A. Phil’s ambitious centennial season, planned before his arrival, was still a point of pride for Woods.

“The depth of talent, the quality of thinking, the clarity of vision — you see all of that in the centennial plans,” Woods said at the time.

Former longtime Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who secured about $50 million in public funds to renovate the Hollywood Bowl and to support the L.A. Phil’s 30-year lease on the venue, said he did not see Woods’ departure coming.

“I’m surprised. I’m just — surprised,” Yaroslavsky said. “I have no idea what, if anything, is behind it. I’ve gotten to know him a bit and found him to be a very charming and good representative of the Philharmonic, a very good advocate. But this is odd. I’m stunned.”

Woods has also served as president and chief executive of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and vice president of artistic planning and operations at the Philadelphia Orchestra. Prior to his career in orchestral management, Woods worked as a record producer for EMI at Abbey Road Studios for a decade.

With Plácido Domingo absent for the season opener, L.A. Opera kicks off a Barrie Kosky take on Puccini that’s pointed toward a new generation.


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