Gail Samuel to become CEO of the Boston Symphony Orchestra

February 20, 2021 at 11:46 am

By Aaron Keebaugh

Gail Samuel will depart the Los Angeles Philharmonic in June to become CEO of the BSO. Photo: Aram Boghosian

Gail Samuel, longtime executive with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, has been named president and CEO of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the organization announced this week. She will be the first woman to lead the BSO in its 140-year history. 

Samuel assumes her new role on June 21, succeeding Mark Volpe, who is retiring after 23 years in the position.  

Samuel will oversee the operations of the BSO, Boston Pops, Tanglewood Festival and Learning Institute, as well as develop new initiatives aimed at extending the organization’s cultural reach. She brings with her nearly a decade of experience leading the LA Phil during a time when the orchestra became the envy of the classical music world for its rich and varied programming. 

She takes the helm of the BSO during an especially fraught time. The pandemic led the orchestra to cancel the last few months of its spring 2020 season, the entire Tanglewood season last summer, and all live concerts at Symphony Hall for 2020-2021, resulting in $51.5 million in lost revenue, the Boston Globe estimated. The financial strain triggered furloughs, and the orchestra renegotiated its contract with the musicians, who agreed to severely reduced pay. 

Still, Samuel told the New York Times that there was no other orchestra than the BSO for which she would have considering leaving her post in Los Angeles. “The opportunity now to lead one of the world’s best orchestras, in a rapidly changing metropolitan area such as Boston, is an exciting new challenge and a dream project,” she said in a statement.  

Samuel began her career with the LA Phil in 1993 as orchestra manager. She was promoted to general manager in 1997 and assumed the additional role as Vice President of Philharmonic Production in 2009. Samuel was appointed Chief Operating Officer in 2012 and twice served as acting president and COO. 

A California native, Samuel was considered a strong internal candidate to lead the LA Phil after Deborah Borda, the orchestra’s former president, left to take the helm of the New York Philharmonic in 2017. But the top job instead went to Seattle Symphony president Simon Wood, who eventually resigned after two years.  

Samuel’s time with the LA Phil saw her expanding the cultural reach of the Hollywood Bowl, the orchestra’s iconic summer home. She also steered all operational development for Walt Disney Concert Hall and worked with the county of Los Angeles to bring the Ford, an historic amphitheater, under the orchestra’s stewardship.  

Raised by two public school music teachers, Samuel studied violin in her youth, and went on to earn an undergraduate degree in music and psychology at the University of Southern California, where she eventually earned an M.B.A.  

Samuel also has a strong connection to Tanglewood. She recalled stopping here on a family road trip in 1986 to watch a concert led by Leonard Bernstein. Prior to joining the LA Phil, she held positions with the Boston University Tanglewood Institute as well as with Yale University, the Young Musicians Foundation, and the Minnesota Orchestra.  

In addition, she has experience in leadership roles with other cultural institutions in southern California. Presently, Samuel serves on the board of councilors for the USC Thornton School of Music as well as on the board of directors of Pasadena’s Noise Within Theatre.  

“Gail’s impact on the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and by extension, the Los Angeles arts community, was widespread and cannot be overstated,” BSO Board of Trustees chair Susan W. Paine said in a statement. “She holds a sincere belief in the power and vitality of classical music, and the philosophy that cultural institutions carry a civic responsibility to serve their surrounding communities.” 

With Samuel’s appointment to the BSO, Andris Nelsons said that, “we begin a new chapter in the orchestra’s celebrated . . . history, and face these unprecedented times of change, challenge and opportunity with a renewed spirit of possibility.” 

“I am pleased that Gail will guide the orchestra through its next chapter, post-pandemic,” said Mark Volpe. “I am certain she will inspire new ideas and thinking that will ensure the BSO continues to flourish by bringing its extraordinary gifts to the widest possible audiences for many years to come.” 

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