On The Avenue

Introducing a New New York Philharmonic

by Kelly Laffey Photographed by Jimi Celeste/PMC
Thursday, September 21, 2017

The trumpets of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony heralded a new season of the New York Philharmonic on Tuesday night, as the oldest orchestra in the U.S. began anew.

The 106 All-Stars opening gala was a de facto homecoming for new president and CEO Deborah Borda, as well as a special performance with music director designate Jaap van Zweden, who will officially fill the role at the start of the 2018-19 season.

“She’s a fabulous leader,” New York Philharmonic Chairman Oscar Schafer said of Borda. “When we interviewed head hunters to replace our outgoing president, everyone said ‘Deborah’s the best in the country, but you’ll never get her.’ [But] she’s a New Yorker. She played a musical instrument herself. It’s in her DNA.”

Borda comes to the New York Philharmonic after spending 17 years as the CEO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where she was lauded for quadrupling the orchestra’s endowment; signing Gustavo Dudamel as the music director, “which was a huge diplomatic coup,” said Schafer; and spearheading the building of the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

“When you look at the history of musical America, the New York Philharmoic is that history,” says Borda. “What’s embedded in our DNA is the history of invention and taking risks. And that’s what I see for our future.”

Patron Karen Lefrak, a musician who has had two of her compositions played by the Philharmonic, echoed that sentiment. “I’d like [the Philharmonic] to be sold out all the time, and for it to be impossible to get tickets. The orchestra sounds so exquisite now.”

The performance began with a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, before van Zweden launched the 106-piece orchestra into Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. Of note is that the musicians were placed on risers, which many thought made the sound more robust. While some joked that they hoped Borda could transport the Disney Concert Hall and its acoustics across the country, gala co-chair Elizabeth Newman commented “There’s been this controversy about the acoustics in the hall, and I can remember very famous maestro Lorin Maazel saying, ‘There are no bad acoustics—it’s just that the maestro doesn’t know where to place the musicians.’ So, we don’t have a problem.”

In addition to Newman, the gala was co-chaired by Frank Newman; Klara and Larry A. Silverstein; Maggie Ueng Tsai and Richard Tsai; and Jariya Wanapun and Arthur Chu. Philharmonic radio announcer Alec Baldwin hosted a Facebook Livesteam of the show, and he attended with wife Hilaria Baldwin.

A dinner followed the performance, where Schafer introduced van Zweden with an anecdote about the time he met Leonard Bernstein—”Bernstein was conducting Mahler and he said to Jaap, why don’t you try? [He did and] Bernstein said, ‘That was really bad, but I think you have a career.'” The audience laughed, and Schafer continued, “And he [does].”

Borda had previously served as the CEO and president of the New York Philharmonic in the 1990s.

By the sound of it, and the sound of the music, she’s off to another good start.


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