L.A. Phil for 2020-21 shifts ‘musical center of gravity’ toward women, people of color

Gustavo Dudamel, the L.A. Phil's music and artistic director, aims to expand an art form historically dominated by European men.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Philharmonic on Wednesday announced a 2020-21 Walt Disney Concert Hall season lineup that spotlights Pan-American artists and issues, including slavery and incarceration, 1970s U.S.-China relations and the representation of female composers over time.

With Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel leading the way, about half the featured artists will be women or people of color.

“One of the big things that we’re trying to do this season,“ Chief Executive Chad Smith said, “is really advance this idea that Gustavo has been initiating for so long, which is to shift the musical center of gravity for our art form further west and further south. We come from an art form which historically was European and largely male. How do we, over time, change that?“

The 2020-21 season will kick off a five-year Pan-American Music Initiative that will include 30 to 40 new commissions, recording projects and collaborations with individuals and cultural institutions from across the Americas. The inaugural year will be curated by Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz, whom Smith calls “one of the most important voices in contemporary Mexican classical music.“ Dudamel will conduct the late Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera’s “Estancia” ballet, with choreography by Brazilian dance troupe Grupo Corpo.

The new series “America: The Stories We Tell” considers the ways in which myths, folktales, operas and other stories shape our collective identity. It opens with the world premiere of a commissioned orchestral piece by Puerto Rican composer Angélica Negrón and later explores the music of late American experimental composer Pauline Oliveros, who created “deep listening,” a musical experience drawing on improvisation, meditation, electronic music and ritual. “America” also will include Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” paired with works by Florence Price and William Grant Still, as well as a concert performance ofJohn Adams’ “Girls of the Golden West” and Dudamel conducting Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story.”

Julia Bullock’s mixed-media concert “History’s Persistent Voice” will close the series. The performance weaves slave narratives from the 1860s, Jim Crow-era stories and modern-day incarceration experiences, and it features newly commissioned music by American women of color.


The L.A. Phil will host a weeklong “Seoul Festival,” curated by composer Unsuk Chin, guest-conducted by Shi-Yeon Sung and featuring leading Korean musicians, composers and conductors. It’s a “deep dive into the contemporary musical culture of Seoul,“ Smith said, that includes seven U.S. and world premieres as well as lectures and panel discussions.

“In these divided times, it has never been more important for us to remember all that unites us,” Dudamel said in the announcement.

The 2020-21 season will have 27 commissions, including a new violin concerto by Andrew Norman, whose “Sustain” last month earned the L.A. Phil its second Grammy Award in company history, and the U.S. premiere of Thomas Adès’ full, 90-minute ballet “Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise,” inspired by Dante and conducted by Dudamel.

The season includes two staged operas: the return of “Tristan Project“, which premiered at Disney Hall in 2004 conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, directed by Peter Sellars and staged with visuals by artist Bill Viola; and John Adams’ “Nixon in China,” conducted by Dudamel. Gerald Barry’s “Salome” will get its world premiere in a concert performance conducted by and starring Barbara Hannigan.

Other season highlights include pianist Yuja Wang performing all four Rachmaninoff piano concertos, with Dudamel conducting; former L.A. Phil associate conductor Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla conducting her City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, with cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason; and Hannigan in “Supernova,” an immersive, multimedia concert.

“We want our programming to enlighten and inspire audiences, certainly, but we also want this work to foster conversations,” Smith said. “We want it to ask questions, we want people to recognize that our art form has something to say about our human experience today — even if the music is 200 years old.“


Find the full season lineup on the Philharmonic’s website.