Former Los Angeles Philharmonic exec VP and general manager Ernest Fleischmann died Sunday in Los Angeles following a long illness. He was 85.
As topper of the L.A. Phil and the Hollywood Bowl, Fleischmann spearheaded the expansion of the Phil’s activities at Hollywood Bowl. He was instrumental in bringing conductors Esa-Pekka Salonen and Carlo Maria Giulini to the org, and was a key part of the campaign to build the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Even into his 80s, Fleischmann helped to scout the Phil’s current conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, joining the org during its South American trip.
“The unique and blessed musical landscape we inhabit in 21st century Los Angeles was made possible by a cultural giant of the 20th — Ernest Fleischmann,” said Deborah Borda, prexy and CEO of the Phil, in a statement. “His powerful impact and vision was global and extended to the entire world of music. … Among his greatest gifts are the existence of Walt Disney Concert Hall, the realization of his singular vision for the Hollywood Bowl, and the discovery and nurturing of the greatest musical talent of our time.”
Italo Giulini helped polish the Phil’s rep as a world-class symphony during the seven years he was the conductor. He was followed by Andre Previn, who Fleischmann hoped would boost box office, but the two frequently clashed, most famously when the exec tapped Salonen to guest conduct the Phil on its tour of Japan.
Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Fleischmann and his family fled to South Africa in 1936. A conductor and pianist in his own right, he made his conducting debut at age 9 in Cape Town, South Africa. After heading music fests in that country, he made his way to England where he managed the London Symphony Orchestra from 1959-67. After a brief stint as head of CBS Masterworks for Europe, the Eye’s classical music section, Fleischmann joined the Phil and Hollywood Bowl in 1969.
During 29 years in his combined posts at the L.A. Phil and the Bowl, Fleischmann was behind the expansion of the Phil’s activities at the Music Center, in Southern California communities, on national and international tours, radio and TV, on recordings, in youth projects and in the development of audiences for contemporary music.
He set up the Phil’s Chamber Music Society and the New Music Group and its “Green Umbrella” concerts, which performed separately from the traditional concerts, an idea that was later adopted by other orchestras.
Hearing the orchestra perform during a 1996 trip to the Theater du Chatelet’s improved acoustics in Paris for a Stravinsky festival conducted by Salonen and Pierre Boulez, pushed Philharmonic board members to restart fundraising for the Frank Gehry-designed Disney Concert Hall. Fleischmann was involved in getting the project off the ground during his tenure and after.
At the Hollywood Bowl, his efforts to extend the season, stimulate major improvements in performing standards, and to revitalize programming helped to attract the largest audiences for any U.S. summer festival of classical music. He initiated Jazz at the Bowl, the Virtuoso Series, the Sunday Sunset Concerts and Chamber Music at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater.
He retired from the Phil in 1998 and became a.d. of the Ojai Festival until 2003.
Survivors include a son and two daughters.
A public memorial is being planned for the fall.