The 42-year-old Venezuelan conductor agreed to a five-year contract as New York’s artistic and music director, the orchestra announced Tuesday. Dudamel will become the first Latino to head the orchestra since its founding in 1842.
“What the orchestra told us very, very clearly was that the person that they wanted, their dream candidate, was Gustavo,” New York Philharmonic CEO Deborah Borda said. “When you’re trying to recruit the most sought-after conductor in the world, you don’t run a sort of classic search.”
Dudamel — who will hold the title of music director designate in 2025-26 — will also remain music director of the Paris Opera, a role he’s held since 2021, and of Venezuela’s Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, a position he took in 1999 that gained him international recognition.
Dudamel, in a statement, cited the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca’s quote: “Every step we take on earth brings us to a new world.”
“I gaze with joy and excitement at the world that lies before me in New York City, and with pride and love at the world I have shared — and will continue to share — with my dear Angelenos over the next three seasons and beyond,” Dudamel said. “All of us are united in our belief that culture creates a better world, and in our dream that music is a fundamental right.”
Jaap van Zweden said in September 2021 that he would leave the New York Philharmonic after the 2023-24 season, a six-season tenure as music director that will be the shortest since Pierre Boulez succeeded Leonard Bernstein and led the orchestra from 1971-77.
Borda told the New York orchestra and Dudamel informed the LA musicians of his decision in simultaneous announcements during respective rehearsals at Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall and Walt Disney Concert Hall. The New York Philharmonic moved back into Geffen Hall in October following a $550 million renovation that improved acoustics, sightlines and amenities.
The New York orchestra plans a February 20 news conference to introduce him.
Dudamel is among the few conductors who in recent years have gained mainstream attention. A character in Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle appeared to be based on Dudamel, who conducted the soundtrack to Steven Spielberg’s 2021 remake of Bernstein’s West Side Story.
Dudamel made his New York Philharmonic debut in November 2007. He has conducted the orchestra 26 times and is scheduled to lead three performances of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony from May 19-21.
“This infectious joy and deep musicality and humanism connects with audiences,” Borda said of Dudamel.
Borda, who is retiring as the New York Philharmonic’s CEO at the end of the current season, was the Los Angeles orchestra’s CEO when she hired Dudamel to succeed Esa-Pekka Salonen as music director for the 2009-10 season.
“I remember the first day we tried to book him — he didn’t even have a manager. And look at how he’s progressed since then,” Borda said. “I hadn’t seen a conductor like this since Bernstein.”
Borda, who returned to New York in 2017 for her second stint in charge, will be succeeded by Gary Ginstling, who had been head of Washington’s National Symphony Orchestra since 2017.
“He was really the one conductor who could be transformational for the future of this institution,” Ginstling said of Dudamel. “He will be able to bring in new audiences and younger audiences and a broader range of audiences.”
Dudamel emerged from Venezuela’s music education program known as “El Sistema (The System)” and gained praise from his work with young musicians. He won the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition in 2004. While Dudamel at first declined to speak of Venezuela’s economic and political turmoil, he criticized his nation’s government in 2017 for suppressing protests. Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro then canceled the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra’s U.S. tours.
Dudamel’s Los Angeles contract was extended through 2025-26 three years ago, and his 17 seasons with LA will match Salonen for the longest as that orchestra’s head. Dudamel earned $775,000 from the LA Philharmonic in the COVID-impacted year ending September 30, 2021, down from $3.55 million the previous year, according to the orchestra’s tax returns.
He signed an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon in 2005. Borda said details such as recordings and how many weeks per season Dudamel would be committing will be announced at the news conference.
Ronald Blum for the Associated Press