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L.A. Phil and Hollywood Bowl leader is leaving for the Boston Symphony Orchestra

A portrait of Gail Samuel.
Gail Samuel, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s next president and CEO, photographed in Copley Square.
(Aram Boghosian)

More than a year after it began its search for a new president and chief executive, the Boston Symphony Orchestra is expected to announce on Thursday that it has found a new leader on the opposite coast: Gail Samuel, president of the Hollywood Bowl and chief operating officer of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Samuel will be the BSO’s first female president in its 140-year history. She will take over from Mark Volpe in mid-June, when he retires after 23 years.

“There is no better place than the Los Angeles Philharmonic to understand the sophisticated inner workings of a musical organization centered around a symphony orchestra, and I will forever be grateful for the lasting relationships and the experience afforded me at the L.A. Phil,” Samuel said in the announcement. “The opportunity now to lead one of the world’s best orchestras, in a rapidly changing metropolitan area such as Boston, is an exciting new challenge and a dream project.”

Just as the L.A. Phil programs the Hollywood Bowl, the Boston Symphony has its orchestra as well as Tanglewood, its summer program in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. Samuel will oversee both operations as well as the Boston Pops.

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A native Angeleno, Samuel has served in a range of roles at the L.A. Phil for more than 28 years. She served as acting president and CEO in 2017 after the L.A. Phil’s acclaimed, long-serving leader, Deborah Borda, left the organization for the New York Philharmonic. Ten months later, she relinquished the role as the L.A. Phil hired Seattle Symphony President Simon Wood to replace Borda. Wood was in the job less than two years before he resigned.

Samuel was promoted to her current titles in early 2020 by Wood’s successor, Chad Smith. She is responsible for providing operational oversight for all of the L.A. Phil’s venues, including Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Hollywood Bowl and the Ford Theatres. She oversees programming at the Bowl and the Ford, and she manages the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

Shortly after her appointment, she shared details of her inaugural Bowl lineup for summer 2020, which was to have featured a powerhouse array of female performers including Brandi Carlile, Diana Ross, Janelle Monáe, Cynthia Erivo, Yuja Wang and Brittany Howard.

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The season was canceled because of COVID-19 restrictions and marked the first time in 98 years that the legendary venue went dark for the whole summer.

Samuel leaves the L.A. Phil at an extraordinarily uncertain time. In May, the organization announced a pandemic-induced $80-million budget shortfall that triggered furloughs, including about 25% of the L.A. Phil’s full-time, non-union workforce (about 50 people) through September. An estimated 226 seasonal employees at the Bowl were laid off. This year’s annual gala was virtual, and there is no set date for a return to Disney Hall or the Bowl.

With Yuja Wang, Julie Andrews, Common, Katy Perry and an orchestra playing in an empty Hollywood Bowl, the L.A. Phil delivers a gala like none before.

The BSO has had similar struggles. In August it laid off 50 of its 180-person administrative staff. The orchestra, which had a 2019 operating budget of slightly more than $100 million, said it has lost $51.5 million in revenue from the pandemic. Last year the orchestra was able to raise $61 million, mostly from donors, a spokeswoman said.

When Samuel steps into her new role in June, BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons said in the announcement, “we begin a new chapter in the orchestra’s celebrated 140-year history, and face these unprecedented times of change, challenge and opportunity with a renewed spirit of possibility.”

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