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  • WDCH
  • Ernest Fleischmann: Impresario and Visionary, 85
  • Jun. 14, 2010
  • It is with deep regret and sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved friend and colleague Ernest Fleischmann. Ernest died surrounded by his family last evening, Sunday June 13, in his Los Angeles home after a long illness at the age of 85.

    Ernest was a giant - a galvanizing figure for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and force of nature within the world of music for decades. There will be a private service, and a separate memorial concert celebrating his life will be held for the public in the fall (date to be announced).

    Ernest Fleischmann’s unparalleled knowledge and love of classical music, along with his manifold relationships with artists, composers, and presenting organizations around the world contributed to the revolutionizing of classical music in the 20th and 21st centuries. His uncanny ability to identify and engage the finest young conducting talent in the world helped build the Los Angeles Philharmonic into a world-class institution. He was instrumental in bringing such extraordinary artists to Los Angeles as Esa-Pekka Salonen and Carlo Maria Giulini. In his eighties, he traveled to Venezuela as part of a delegation from the Philharmonic led by the Association’s President and CEO Deborah Borda, which ultimately resulted in Gustavo Dudamel’s appointment. He was a pivotal figure in envisioning and realizing Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by his long-time collaborator Frank Gehry.

    Ernest Fleischmann was born in Frankfurt, Germany, and emigrated to South Africa in 1936 and then to England in 1959. From 1969 until his death in 2010, he lived in Los Angeles. He held degrees in both music and business. His chief music teachers included Albert Coates, Frank Rothschild, Erik Chisholm, and Josef Trauneck. He began playing the piano and conducting in public at the age of nine. He was a music critic at age 17 and made his professional conducting debut the same year in Cape Town, South Africa.

    Mr. Fleischmann conducted numerous concerts and opera performances in South Africa. In 1952, he was appointed music organizer for the first major international arts festival held in South Africa, the Van Riebeeck Festival in Cape Town. This was followed by an appointment as director of music and drama for the 1956 Johannesburg Festival, which rivaled Europe’s big festivals (Edinburgh, Vienna, and Holland) in size and scope.

    Mr. Fleischmann managed the London Symphony Orchestra from 1959 to 1967. During this time, the LSO rose from the bottom of London's orchestral league to become one of the world’s most prestigious orchestras. In 1967, he became Director of CBS Masterworks for Europe, the classical section of CBS Records.

    Mr. Fleischmann became the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Executive Director in January, 1969, simultaneously becoming General Director of the Hollywood Bowl, famed summer home of the orchestra. In 1988 his title changed to Executive Vice President and Managing Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association. Prior to his Philharmonic appointment, he had been active as a musician, conductor, journalist, broadcaster, recording executive, accountant, and festival director. He retired from his Philharmonic position at the end of February, 1998, and agreed to serve as the Philharmonic's artistic consultant until June 2000. He was artistic director of the Ojai Festival from 1998 to 2003. He was also in demand as a juror at musical competitions around the world, and was a consultant to musical organizations in the USA, England, Germany and Italy.

    During the 29 years in his combined posts in Los Angeles, he was responsible for the expansion of the Philharmonic's activities at the Hollywood Bowl, at the Los Angeles Music Center, in Southern California communities, on national and international tours, on radio and television, on recordings, in youth projects, and in the development of audiences for contemporary music. At the Hollywood Bowl, his efforts to extend the season, to stimulate major improvements in performing standards, and to revitalize the programming helped to attract the largest audiences for any U.S. summer festival of classical music. Early in his tenure he founded “Open House at the Bowl,” possibly the largest, most wide-ranging children’s performing arts festival anywhere.

    Mr. Fleischmann was responsible for many other innovations at the Hollywood Bowl, including several successful new series: Jazz at the Bowl, the Virtuoso Series, the Sunday Sunset Concerts, and Chamber Music at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre. The Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute for Young Orchestral Musicians and Conductors (1982-1991), which was founded by Mr. Fleischmann together with Leonard Bernstein, prepared many young musicians for orchestral careers. In 1991, Mr. Fleischmann announced the formation of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. This ensemble, which is completely separate from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, performs at the Hollywood Bowl, tours internationally, and has recorded extensively for Philips Classics.

    One of Mr. Fleischmann’s chief priorities was to expand the scope and depth of the Philharmonic’s educational activities. His commitment to contemporary music resulted in many stimulating projects over the years. Two of the most important of these are the Philharmonic New Music Group, which was formed in 1981, and the Philharmonic’s collaboration with the celebrated composer/conductor Pierre Boulez, which began in 1969 and included regular Boulez appearances with the Orchestra. The Philharmonic New Music Group’s Green Umbrella concerts (founded by Mr. Fleischmann) are generally acknowledged to be one of the most successful contemporary music series in the U.S.A. The Philharmonic’s flourishing Chamber Music Society was another of Mr. Fleischmann’s “babies.” In 1991, he was instrumental in inaugurating the Philharmonic’s free Neighborhood Concerts, which regularly take the Orchestra into Los Angeles’ ethnically diverse communities.

    Mr. Fleischmann’s achievements have received international and national attention and he was profiled in major publications worldwide. He received honors including a Commendation from Los Angeles’ Mayor Bradley, City Council and County Board of Supervisors’ Resolutions, and a Citation from the Los Angeles Unified School District in recognition of his work on behalf of the city’s minorities and children. In 1979 he was the recipient of the John Steinway Award for distinguished service to music, and in May 1980 he was given the President’s Special Award by the Association of California Symphony Orchestras.

    In March 1997, he was presented with the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. In February 1998, Mayor Richard Riordan and the City Council named Mr. Fleischmann the First Living Cultural Treasure of Los Angeles. Later that year, the French government made him an Officer, Ordre des Arts et Lettres, in the Legion of Honor. In January, 1999, the President of Finland bestowed on him the title of Knight, First Class of the Order of the White Rose.

    Earlier, in 1985, Mr. Fleischmann received the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce’s highest civic honor, The Award of Merit. In 1987, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Music from The Cleveland Institute of Music, and in May 1989 he received the Friends of Music Award for Distinguished Arts Leadership from the University of Southern California. Mr. Fleischmann was one of the five recipients of the first annual Los Angeles Honors for continuing contributions to the city’s cultural life, presented by the Los Angeles Arts Council in November 1989; and in April 1991 the American Federation of Musicians (Local 47) presented him with the Live Music award for contributions to the Enrichment of the Musical Community. In 1994 he was presented with the Burning Bush Award from the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. In May, 1996, he was honored by The Central City Association as a Treasure of Los Angeles, for his outstanding contribution to the cultural life of the city. He was the 1996 recipient of the Amigo de Los Angeles Award from the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau.

    For a number of years, Mr. Fleischmann was a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts; he served on the board of directors of the American Symphony Orchestra League (Vice-Chairman). He also chaired the League’s Music for a New Millennium project. He was a director of the International Gustav Mahler Foundation and also served on the boards of the American Music Center, Inc., and the California Confederation of the Arts. In December 1993, Mr. Fleischmann was one of the invited participants in a meeting of artists, government officials, arts funders, and administrators from 33 countries at a week-long Salzburg Seminar on The Economics of the Arts. He presented a paper titled The Recession, Cultural Change, and a Glut of Orchestras.

    He is survived by his three children, Stephanie, Martin, and Jessica, his former wife, Elsa Leviseur, his sister-in-law Catherine Fleischmann, and three nephews, Peter, Hugo, and Mark.

    Upon his passing, Mr. Fleischmann’s children issued the following statement: “Our father’s old-world sensibility in combination with his visionary spirit and his fierce passion for music, played an important role in the revitalization of his adopted city’s cultural life.”


  • Contact:

    Sophie Jefferies,, 213.972.3422; Lisa Bellamore,, 213.972.3689; Photos: 213.972.3034