This fall, the New York Philharmonic will have a transformed home when David Geffen Hall reopens after a $550 million renovation. In the not too distant future, the orchestra will also have a new music director to replace its outgoing conductor.
On Friday, the orchestra announced another change: Gary Ginstling, executive director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, will replace Deborah Borda, a revered dynamic figure with the Philharmonic, as president and executive director next year.
The appointment signals the beginning of a new era for the Philharmonic, America’s oldest symphony orchestra, which is working to attract new audiences as it recovers from the turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic. While the orchestra seems to be through the worst of the crisis, the pandemic has brought new urgency to questions about changing listening habits and expanding into the digital sphere.
Ginstling, who will join the Philharmonic this fall as executive director before succeeding Borda next year, said he wants to capitalize on the momentum of the Geffen Hall renovation.
“This is a unique moment as the orchestra comes out of a really difficult time,” he said in an interview. “This new home will be truly transformative for the musicians, for the public, for orchestras everywhere, and for the city. The Philharmonie has the opportunity to seize this moment and position itself successfully in the long term.”
The appointment marks a generational change at the Philharmonie. Ginstling, 56, will take over the reins from Borda, 72, who led the Philharmonic in the 1990s and returned in 2017 to oversee the long-delayed renovation of Geffen Hall. The return of Borda, one of the country’s most successful arts curators who, meanwhile, has helped transform the Los Angeles Philharmonic into one of the best ensembles in the country – moving it to a new home, stabilizing its shaky finances and Gustavo Dudamel appointing director as his musicians – was considered a coup for the orchestra, which was struggling with deficits and financial difficulties at the time.
Borda said that with the hall and orchestra reopening on a firmer financial footing after the long pandemic shutdown, she felt it was time to step aside. She will leave her post effective June 30, 2023, but will continue to serve as an advisor to Ginstling and the Philharmonic Board of Directors, assisting with fundraising and other matters.
“Those of us in my generation have done our best, but it’s time to really support and usher in a new generation of leaders who will bring fresh ideas to everything,” she said in an interview. “It was the right time.”
Borda began working with the board last year to find a successor. They were looking for a leader who could help lead the institution at a time of momentous change. In May, after interviewing five candidates, the Philharmonic offered the position to Ginstling, who has conducted orchestras in Cleveland, Indianapolis and Washington DC
“We wanted someone who had the experience but was also young enough to have a long run,” said Peter W. May, co-chair of the Philharmonic’s board of directors, in an interview. “He also impressed us with the way he did community outreach.”
After joining the National Symphony Orchestra in 2017, Ginstling experimented with new ways to reach audiences, including hosting concerts in a 6,000-seat arena designed for rock music. He was credited with helping increase ticket sales, subscriptions and donations. He worked closely with Gianandrea Noseda, Music Director of the National Symphony, whose contract there was recently extended through the end of the 2026-2027 season.
In New York, Ginstling will face familiar challenges. Even before the pandemic, directing orchestras was difficult. Labor costs have increased. Ticket sales have declined as the old model of selling seasonal subscriptions has died out. Solid fundraising has become imperative as donations make up an ever-increasing portion of the orchestra’s budget.
The pandemic has placed new strains on the Philharmonic, which has been forced to cancel its 2020-21 season, lay off staff and cut musicians’ salaries by 25 percent. (The Philharmonic announced this week that they would soon reverse those cuts.)
For all its devastation, the pandemic also presented an opportunity that allowed the orchestra to accelerate the renovation schedule by a year and a half (the hall is now scheduled to open on October 7). For the past year, the orchestra has been without a permanent home, roaming between several different theaters, many smaller than Geffen.
Ginstling, a clarinetist with degrees from Yale, Juilliard and the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, said he will continue the Philharmonic’s efforts to feature a diverse roster of composers and conductors.
“When we’re in a post-Covid world, and I’m not sure we are already,” he said, “the biggest challenges are rebuilding audiences and then finding ways to connect with our communities.” to connect in new and different ways.”
The Philharmonic is now beginning a search for a conductor to replace Jaap van Zweden, their Maestro since 2018, who unexpectedly announced his retirement at the end of the 2023/24 season in September. Conductors such as Dudamel, Susanna Mälkki and Santtu-Matias Rouvali, among others, have been named as possible contenders, although the field remains open.
It’s unclear if the search will be completed before the end of Borda’s tenure. She said she is “full steam ahead” and will continue to provide advice if it is needed.
In a statement, van Zweden, who said last year he will be leaving the orchestra because the pandemic has caused him to reassess his life and priorities, praised Borda’s leadership of the orchestra.
“The future and security of this orchestra is very important to me and I am grateful to Deborah for leading me from a position of strength,” he said. “I am very much looking forward to welcoming and working with Gary.”
The appointment is something of a homecoming for Ginstling, who grew up in New Jersey as the son of a Juilliard-trained pianist and a tax attorney. His parents subscribed to philharmonic concerts and he attended concerts with giants such as Leonard Bernstein and Zubin Mehta. He began playing the clarinet in elementary school and later studied with a philharmonic.
“I’ve had a deep love and passion for orchestra and orchestral music for a long time,” he said, “and it really started with the New York Philharmonic.”