Since neither national nor local media have done anything to discover the causes behind the beheading of the Boston Symphony, we have made a few calls across the ocean to a number of insiders and can offer the following narrative.
Gail Samuel was a prodigiously competent COO at the LA Phil, trained in the Deborah Borda school of hard knocks and good laughs. She declined the chance to succeed Deborah, knowing the the successor must fail, and waited for a Big Five orchestra to come knocking, as Boston did when Mark Volpe retired. They were looking for a livelier, less conservative leadership. Gail was a perfect fit. BSO’s first woman in charge happened to be married to an African-American. The optics were good.
But the culture in Boston was encrusted in past practice and inflated self-esteem. The musicians did not take kindly to proposed changes or hard truths. Artistic director Anthony Fogg, a James Levine loyalist, stiffened their resistance. Music director Andris Nelsons was not open to her ideas and his bilateral tour relationship with the Leipzig Gewandhaus created further obstacles.
There were rumblings on last month’s tour of Japan (pictured). Samuel’s Aspen hire Asadour Santourian raised further hackles. Tensions reached snapping point this month. Something had to give.
Gail Samuel gave, resigning last Friday together with Satourian. She will soon land another top orchestra. But Boston will find it harder to recruit an experienced CEO. This is a blot on its very long-standing reputation for reliability.