Since neither the national nor the local media have done anything to reveal the reasons for the Boston Symphony’s beheading, we made a few calls to a number of insiders across the ocean and can offer the following story.
Gail Samuel was a startlingly competent COO in Philly, LA, trained in Deborah Borda’s school of hard knocks and good laughs. He turned down the chance to succeed Deborah, knowing that a successor would have to fail, and waited for the Big Five to come knocking, as Boston did when Mark Volpe retired. They were looking for a more vibrant, less conservative leadership. Gail was a perfect fit. The first woman in charge of the BSO happened to be married to an African-American man. The optics were good.
But Boston’s culture was steeped in past practices and inflated self-esteem. Musicians did not take kindly to the proposed changes or harsh truths. Art director Anthony Fogg, a James Levine devotee, stiffened their resistance. Music director Andries Nelson was not open to his ideas, and his two-way touring relationship with Leipzig’s Gewandhaus posed further obstacles.
Last month’s Japan tour caused quite a stir (pictured). Asadur Santurian, Samuel’s Aspen rental, caused further conflict. Tensions have reached a peak this month. Something had to give.
Gail Samuel gave up, resigning last Friday along with Saturyan. He will soon be commissioning another high-profile orchestra. But Boston will have a harder time recruiting an experienced CEO. This undermines its longstanding reputation for reliability.