In 2026 Gustavo Dudamel will be leaving the Los Angeles Philharmonic to become music director of the New York Philharmonic. 

NY Philharmonic's CEO Deborah Borda has said of him "I hadn't seen a conductor like this since Bernstein," and she is far from the only one to make that comparison to the legendary conductor/composer (whose score to West Side Story was conducted by Dudamel for the soundtrack to the recent Spielberg film of the classic musical.) But perhaps a more precise analogy would be with Zubin Mehta. Both Mehta and Dudamel come from so-called "developing" countries that, until these men became famous, were not generally associated with Western classical music (India and Venezuela). Both were named Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic while still in their twenties (Mehta at 26, still the youngest person ever to hold that title, and Dudamel at 28.) Mehta stayed with the orchestra for sixteen years before leaving to take over the NY Philharmonic; Dudamel will have served seventeen seasons in LA before leaving for NY. Both conductors became bona fide celebrities while still in Los Angeles, holding multiple directing posts and making guest appearances with orchestras all over the world, and they are two of the very few classical musicians who have made an impact in mainstream popular culture. (Mehta graced the cover of Time Magazine in 1968; Dudamel was named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in 2010.) They both successfully cultivated a new young diverse audience for their concerts in Los Angeles and are committed to new music and cross-cultural collaborations. Mehta continued these efforts in New York while simultaneously evolving from a young firebrand into one of the world's established maestros, and one can easily imagine that a similar trajectory is in store for Dudamel. 

Yet another parallel is that both conductors arrived in New York as the city was reeling. When Mehta took over the orchestra in 1978 New York was riddled with debt, crime and pollution, and Mehta's tenure with the orchestra coincided with the city's healing and cultural rebirth. It's seems likely that Dudamel will use his position to help New York find its own footing after the devastating impact of the pandemic; his appointment is already being hailed by the city's large Latino community. 

Ms. Borda has revealed that the orchestra dispelled with the usual formalities in securing Dudamel. There was no formal "search" as such; they knew exactly who they wanted. Borda would sometimes fly to wherever Dudamel was conducting to talk to him about the position.

The New York Philharmonic has much to celebrate these days. It has just moved back into its hall at Lincoln Center, now rechristened as David Geffen Hall, after a $550 million renovation. One of the only positive effects of the pandemic is that it made it possible for the renovation to be accelerated and completed ahead of schedule, with less disruption to the orchestra's performances than expected. 

Dudamel will also continue his position as the music director of the Paris Opera. He lives in Spain, having become a Spanish citizen in 2018. But there is one sense in which he will remain in Los Angeles forever: in 2019 he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

WETA Passport

Stream tens of thousands of hours of your PBS and local favorites with WETA Passport whenever and wherever you want. Catch up on a single episode or binge-watch full seasons before they air on TV.