Dudamel, who has been the music director of the Paris Opera since 2021, and of the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela since 1999, was a favorite for the podium in New York as soon as it became vacant. In the fall of 2021, van Zweden announced that he would step down at the end of the 2023-24 season after a six-year tenure.
When Dudamel appeared at the Philharmonic last spring, for a two-program Schumann symphony cycle, some players, hoping to win him over, showed up to rehearsals bearing gifts and handwritten notes. Inside his dressing room, a group of musicians gave him a bottle of the Brooklyn-made Widow Jane bourbon, telling him the Philharmonic would welcome him if he could find a way to spend more time in New York.
“Everything comes alive with him,” said Christopher Martin, the orchestra’s principal trumpet. “Everything is as natural as breathing.”
Borda said that it was Dudamel’s long and fruitful relationship with the Philharmonic — he has led 26 concerts with the orchestra since his debut in 2007 — that had made him the choice of the musicians, board members and managers. She recounted meeting him secretly in various European cities over the past year, often flying in and out within 24 hours to avoid suspicion, as she tried to secure a deal. (Seeing him in Los Angeles, she said, “just didn’t feel kosher.”)
In October, when Dudamel was in New York to perform at Carnegie Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, she took him on a tour of the renovated hall during a rehearsal, taking a circuitous route to sneak him onto the third tier so that even the orchestra’s musicians would not know. The attempt at secrecy was foiled when they bumped into Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was preparing for a gala performance.
The appointment of Dudamel is the latest chapter in a remarkable career. Born in the Barquisimeto, Venezuela, he grew up in a musical family: His mother was a voice teacher, and his father a trombonist who played in salsa bands. He enrolled in El Sistema as a child and studied violin and composition before pursuing conducting.