Gustavo Dudamel will leave the L.A. Phil for the N.Y. Philharmonic

Gustavo Dudamel is set to leave the L.A. Phil at the end of his contract in 2026, when he will take the top post at the New York Philharmonic.


Gustavo Dudamel, the celebrated conductor who led the Los Angeles Philharmonic to prominence as the nation’s most important orchestra, said Tuesday that he will leave L.A. to join the New York Philharmonic in 2026.

Dudamel said in an interview that the decision to leave when his L.A. Phil contract expires was extremely complex and difficult. He has three seasons remaining as music and artistic director in L.A., he said, and his focus — and heart — will stay here.

But by the end of his L.A. run, Dudamel said, he will be 45 years old and have been music director here for 17 years — the right time for a new challenge.


The New York Philharmonic “is a very different animal, a different situation, and the challenge is very interesting,” said the Venezuelan-born conductor, who also serves as musical director of the Paris Opera. Dudamel said the five-year contract with New York will make his life easier given the city’s proximity to Paris and to his second home, in Madrid, but that’s not why he is seeking this change.

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Dudamel broke the news at the end of rehearsal with orchestra members, whom he called his family, midday Tuesday. Violinist Bing Wang described Dudamel as very emotional. “His voice was almost shaking,” Wang said. “It’s something that we maybe guessed could have happened at some point, but it was still a huge surprise. And it was shocking just to really to hear it. He’s the conductor that everybody wants to have. ... He’s just one of us. He feels like he belongs to L.A.”

Indeed, Dudamel’s move will be a loss not only for the orchestra, but also for the city. The rare conductor who rises to the status of pop culture superstar, Dudamel became an emblem of the Latino community’s power and prominence and has been pivotal to Los Angeles’ rise as a cultural capital during the last two decades. His extensive work with Youth Orchestra Los Angeles programs has been a game-changing force for young musicians in the region.

“My time with the LA Phil has been, and will continue to be, the most transformative period of my life,” Dudamel said in the announcement Tuesday. “I have learned so much, grown so much, and together we have created something truly unique and beautiful — not only with this incredible orchestra, but in the community that we have built around ourselves.”

L.A. Phil Chief Executive Chad Smith said the legacy of great leaders like Dudamel lasts long after they leave an organization.


“Gustavo is this charismatic, extraordinary leader who has been a conduit for people to find their connection to classical music,” Smith said in an interview. “So I think the excitement that you’re seeing in this announcement is an indication of the vibrancy and the health of our art form. So I chose to see it as a good indicator of where we’re going.”

Speculation about Dudamel’s possible departure for New York has swirled for some time, but on Tuesday, Smith offered no clues about successors. “Today is about celebrating Gustavo and this news, and celebrating this moment for the New York Philharmonic and the culmination of their search,” he said. “We will talk about our search in the time ahead.”

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Possible candidates include Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, a former L.A. Phil associate conductor; Lorenzo Viotti, chief conductor of the Dutch National Opera and Netherlands Philharmonic; Susanna Mälkki, a former principal guest conductor for the L.A. Phil; Teddy Abrams, music director of the Louisville Orchestra; and Esa-Pekka Salonen, Dudamel’s predecessor, currently music director of the San Francisco Symphony.

A Dudamel-less Los Angeles had long seemed unthinkable to many, given how perfect a fit the conductor and the city seemed to be.

“Gustavo Dudamel is one of those artists whose charisma and vision exceeds the sometimes closed world of classical music, and the excitement that he’s brought to the L.A. Phil has sustained for his almost 20-year tenure, which is just phenomenal,” said Pulitzer-winning composer Ellen Reid, who is working on a string piece for the L.A. Phil to premiere in May.

The prospect of a Dudamel departure got real after former L.A. Phil Chief Executive Deborah Borda announced in 2017 that she was leaving to run the New York Philharmonic. In an interview Tuesday after word of her hiring coup had gone public, Borda emphasized the strength of the operation at Walt Disney Concert Hall to withstand the departure of its star conductor.


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“They are probably the healthiest orchestra in the United States today — financially, but also in terms of how the community sees them — which is genuinely integrated into the fabric of the community, as important as the Dodgers and the Lakers,” Borda said, adding later: “The L.A. Philharmonic and the Hollywood Bowl are greater than any one person. It’s an institution.”

Others, however, would argue that Dudamel had evolved into a civic institution unto himself. He made his U.S. debut in 2005 with the L.A. Phil at the Hollywood Bowl as a little-known 24-year-old conductor. Just four years later he succeeded Salonen as music director, kicking off his L.A. tenure with a free Bowl concert during which he introduced the newly formed Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, better known as YOLA, signaling that music education in underserved communities would be a key part of his mission. The 2021 opening of the Beckmen YOLA Center in Inglewood cemented that legacy. (Smith on Tuesday reaffirmed the L.A. Phil’s commitment to YOLA, calling the program “a legacy of Gustavo” that will continue to expand across the city, even in his absence.)

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Dudamel’s energy, charisma and artistic ambition, combined with Borda’s and Smith’s vision and leadership, helped expand the L.A. Phil budget from $92 million in his first year to about $155 million in the current season. An endowment that swelled to $350 million proved a crucial part of the orchestra’s pandemic safety net.

A strong financial standing provided the footing for giant leaps in artistic aspiration over the years: a Mozart-Da Ponte opera cycle with sets by Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel and Zaha Hadid; Thomas Adès’ spectacular Dante project; a Mahler Ninth to remember; a centennial season of unprecedented scope and ambition; and inspiring YOLA concerts in London, Tokyo and Mexico City.

Along the way, his Dudamel Fellows program provided a spotlight for rising stars such as Rafael Payare, Matthew Aucoin, Jonathon Heyward and Grazinyte-Tyla. The void he leaves — as an artist, as a mentor, as a role model and opportunity creator for children — will be vast.

If past leader Zubin Mehta made the L.A. Phil a prism through which we viewed the contemporary world, Smith said, and Salonen forced the orchestra to be less a museum of the past and more a laboratory for the future, then Dudamel’s legacy will be “a sense of compassion and a deep commitment to making our art form accessible and welcome to all.”


Dudamel said in the announcement Tuesday that he will “always remain involved in YOLA, even as new people bring new vision and inspiration.” With the new Beckmen YOLA education and performance space, “we have ensured that the future generations will keep expanding that community far beyond our wildest dreams.

“Change always comes with a sense of loss, but I feel that we have only to gain in the years ahead, and it is my hope and my wish that I can continue to play a part in this amazing institution.”

Times staff writer Steven Vargas contributed to this report.