Los Angeles Philharmonic's retired managing director Ernest Fleischmann dies

The Walt Disney Concert Hall is seen in Downtown Los Angeles, California, 14 January 2008.
The Walt Disney Concert Hall is seen in Downtown Los Angeles, California, 14 January 2008. Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Retired Los Angeles Philharmonic general manager Ernest Fleischmann died in his L.A. home on Sunday. In a nearly three-decade career with the orchestra, Fleischmann raised the group’s regional and worldwide profile.

In 1969 two rising stars in the European classical music world stepped off the bus in L.A., so to speak, and helped propel the city to its current status as a destination in the classical music world. One was London Symphony Orchestra violinist Neville Marriner. The other was the orchestra's former general manager Ernest Fleischmann.

In Los Angeles a few years ago to guest conduct the L.A. Chamber Orchestra, Marriner recalled that Fleischmann had arrived in L.A. that year to become the general manager of the 50 year-old L.A. Philharmonic, led by music director Zubin Mehta.

"He brought with him a great deal of expertise. He’d been successful in London. So the musical scene was wide open here. As far as the Los Angeles Philharmonic was concerned it already had a good reputation. With Zubin it was very exciting, with Ernest it was very imaginative," Marriner said.

Marriner had arrived in these parts the same year as founding conductor for the newly formed L.A. Chamber Orchestra. He’d met Fleischmann as the London orchestra’s general manager. Los Angeles had developed a reputation among European musicians as the place to get steady work at movie studios, Marriner said, but thanks to Fleischmann that’s no longer the case.

"It’s become immensely more sophisticated, of course, and a lot of this has a lot to do with Ernest Fleischmann, quite honestly. I have a great deal of admiration. Ernest and I have had a running friendship and battles for many years. I think he put his mark on the orchestra, particularly by the time Guilini got here. The orchestra achieved a national reputation, but an international one," Marriner said.

In 1978 Fleischmann picked Italian conductor Carlo Maria Giulini as L.A. Philharmonic music director, then Andre Previn in 1985. As general manager that was Fleischmann’s most high-profile job. In an interview three years ago, Fleischmann distilled his opinion of conductors. "With many conductors you feel good, they probably know what they’re doing and they have a reasonable technique, but they’re not, should we say, in total command," Fleischmann said.

After Previn, Fleischmann tapped a little-known Finnish composer that he thought had total command. Esa Pekka Salonen, still in his early 30s, would lead the L.A. Phil into the 21st century.

"He has been the inventor of lots of new concepts, and he has been the tireless generator of debate, and he has been questioning all the traditional wisdom," Salonen said last year, on his retirement from 16 years with the L.A. Phil.

During Ernest Fleischmann’s 29-year tenure as general manager of the L.A. Phil, the Hollywood Bowl became the exciting summer venue for classical music, pre-concert lectures grew popular, and the orchestra added more compositions by living composers to its repertoire.

Perhaps Fleischmann’s greatest accomplishment came five years after his 1998 retirement. In 2003 the L.A. Phil moved into the new Walt Disney Concert Hall. "Ernest set the tone for the whole place from the beginning," said Disney Hall architect Frank Gehry a few years after its opening. The gleaming silver building on Bunker Hill is the house that Ernest built. "I would say this is more Ernest Fleischmann’s building in the basic brief, from the beginning," Gehry said.

Successor Deborah Borda relied on Fleischmann’s advice when she picked current conductor Gustavo Dudamel as L.A. Phil music director. At the LA Phil’s season unveiling in 2007 Fleischmann talked about his non-retirement retirement. "I’m still artistic consultant to the orchestra and I do some consulting to orchestras in Europe and here, and also I serve on juries for musical compositions. Life is pretty interesting," Fleischmann said.

Fleischmann was 85 years old. Funeral services are pending. The L.A. Phil says a memorial concert in his honor is planned for the fall.

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