Ending more than a year of speculation over who might fill the formidable shoes of its powerful managing director of 28 years, Ernest Fleischmann, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has named the 39-year-old manager of Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra to the job.
Today in Amsterdam, Willem Wijnbergen, managing director of the Concertgebouw since 1992, is expected to formally announce that he is leaving his post with that venerable, 108-year-old institution--widely considered one of the top orchestras in the world--to oversee the administration of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Barry Sanders, Philharmonic board president, called the succession from Fleischmann to Wijnbergen a move from "strength to strength."
"He has a very strong musical background, [a] good business orientation, as well as an interesting marketing background," said Philharmonic board Chairman Robert Attiyeh. "Some very, very talented people don't have all those characteristics, so for that reason we were looking for a very, very long time."
Esa-Pekka Salonen, music director of the Philharmonic, brought Wijnbergen to the attention of the orchestra board this summer, after meeting him in Europe earlier in the year.
"This guy seems to be a personality that would thrive in L.A.," Salonen said. "Somebody who is clearly very talented, and brilliant in his profession, but also not afraid of challenges, unafraid of starting new territory. [He's attracted by] the quality of the orchestra and the possibility of creating something that can be a beacon for other institutions around the world. I think for such a man, Europe is not necessarily the right place."
Wijnbergen will join the Philharmonic as executive vice president and managing director March 1. Fleischmann, 72, who announced his planned retirement from the $300,000-a-year post in January 1996, will become the Philharmonic's artistic consultant, under contract through June 2000, with options to extend it to the potential opening season of Disney Hall in 2001 or 2002.
In a telephone interview from his Amsterdam home, Wijnbergen said he is leaving his post with the Concertgebouw because of the freedom offered by the comparative youth of the Philharmonic--and Los Angeles.
"[The Philharmonic] tradition is rooted about 50 years ago," Wijnbergen said. "When I came to the [Concertgebouw], it was at a very difficult position because of its financial situation--it was a bit in the doldrums. And what I liked about the Concertgebouw was the general feeling that things needed to change to survive. But it changed much faster than we thought. What we expected to reach in the year 2000 has already been reached.
"This orchestra will be what it is. It is not going to expand into other areas. I can put it in cruise control and monitor it, but I am too young for that. It is very simple."
Cruise control will not be an option when Wijnbergen arrives in Los Angeles. One of his accomplishments in Amsterdam was the establishment of an endowment fund for the orchestra. Expanding the Philharmonic's endowment, which is far smaller than that of any comparable orchestra in the country, is one of the symphony's goals.
And then there's Disney Hall. This fall, the Philharmonic is launching the orchestra's first capital campaign to raise funds for the construction of the auditorium. The goal is to add $15 million to the project, which still faces an estimated funding gap of at least $50 million.
Wijnbergen said assurances from Philharmonic leadership that Disney Hall will indeed be built were conditional to his decision. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra's home (the word "concertgebouw" means concert hall) has the same excellent reputation as the orchestra itself, and it was one of the models for the Disney project. In the Concertgebouw, as in Frank O. Gehry's design for Disney Hall, the audience surrounds the orchestra rather than just sitting in front of it.
"I think for an orchestra that has such potential, a hall has to go with it," Wijnbergen said. "They can only be great if they have this resource of a hall where they can develop their sound and their style of playing."
Wijnbergen was born and raised in the Netherlands and trained as a concert pianist. In 1983, he received his master's degree in piano performance and orchestra conducting from the Music Conservatory of the City of Groningen, and then became an assistant conductor with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 1988, Wijnbergen came to the United States to enroll at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, taking a master's degree in business and arts administration. There he was recruited by Procter & Gamble to serve as brand manager at the company's Rotterdam office.