Longest serving orchestral players – a definitive list

Longest serving orchestral players – a definitive list


norman lebrecht

September 06, 2011

Three weeks ago, I posted an item about a bassoonist in Lake Placid, NY, who was retiring after 64 years’ service. Was David Van Hoesen, I wondered, the longest serving player of all time in the same orchestra?

The wires have been buzzing ever since with suggestions and reader Clinton F Nieweg has come up with a near-definitive list.

The list is heavily Anglocentric. Does anyone know of players in other countries who worked as long, or longer? Russians, perhaps?


1. Violinist Francis Darger: Utah Symphony 1942 to 2011 – 69 years – current member.

2. Bass: Jane Little, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra – 1945 to 2011- 66 years – current member.
“Asst. Principal Bass Emeritus of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Jane Little, first performed with the ASO in 1945 under their original name of
Atlanta Youth Symphony for two years before the orchestra officially changed to Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 1947.”

3. Principal Timpanist Richard Horowitz: Metropolitan Opera Orchestra 1946 to 2011 – 65 years – current member.

4. Violinist Felix Resnick: Detroit Symphony Orchestra – 1943 until his death in April 2008 at age 89. 65 years.
5. Bassoonist David Van Hoesen: Lake Placid Sinfonietta NY – 1947 to 2011 – 64 years –  retired.
6. Clarinetist Stanley Drucker: New York Philharmonic  1948 to 2009 – 62 years – retired.
In 1948, Drucker won a post in the New York Philharmonic clarinet section.
In 1960, he became the orchestra’s principal clarinetist. In January 2008,
the New York Philharmonic announced Drucker’s retirement from the orchestra
at the close of the 2008-2009 season, for a total of 61 years with the
orchestra and 49 years as its principal clarinet.  Guinness logs his career
at “62 years, 7 months and 1 day as of June 4, 2009”.
Drucker’s final concert with the orchestra was July 31, 2009 in Vail, Colorado.
7. Violinist Earl Summers Jr.: joined the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra at age 12 as a section violinist in 1929, the founding year of the orchestra, and retired from performing in 1990 as Concertmaster of the WSO – 61 years.
8. Violinist Jerome Wigler: Philadelphia Orchestra – 1951 to 2011 retired – 60 years – age 91.
9. Principal Trumpet Adolph (Bud) Herseth: Chicago Symphony Orchestra – 1948 until 2001, and served as principal trumpet emeritus from 2001 until his retirement in 2004.  56 years.
10. Percussionist Joe Sinai: San Francisco Symphony “His career as a symphonic performer began in 1915 [and continued to 1970]
… for 55 years with the San Francisco Symphony.”
11.Timpanist Alan Taylor: Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra, 1951 to April 1, 2002. 51 years.  (d. May 15, 2002, aged 71)
12. Principal Harpist Sidonie Goossens: “…Her professional debut in 1921
at a Prom concert, and took part in the first tour by the London Symphony
Orchestra.  She was Principal Harpist when the BBC Symphony Orchestra gave
its first public concert under its founder, Sir Adrian Boult, in October
1930, and she was still in the post when the Orchestra celebrated its golden
jubilee in 1980, the year she officially retired.”
At age 91 in 1991, she became the oldest person to perform at the Last Night
of the Proms concert, televised by the BBC.  She died at the age of 105 on
December 15, 2004.    50 years with the BBC Orchestra.
13. “Violinist Newton Mansfield joined the New York Philharmonic in 1961” to 2011- 50 years – current member.
14. Cellist Jules Eskin: Principal of the Boston Symphony Orchestra – 1964
to 2011 – 47 years  – current member.
15. Timpanist Erwin Mueller: Muncie Symphony Orchestra, Muncie, IN – since its inception in 1949 to 2011 – current member.
http://cms.bsu.edu/Academics/CollegesandDepartments/Music/Directory/Brassand PercussionFaculty/MuellerErwin.aspx
“I checked and while Erwin did play the first concert and in the early days
of the Muncie Symphony Orchestra, he went off to Grad. School and then on to
the Chattanooga and Indianapolis Orchestras before returning to Muncie in
the late 60s. This probably removes him from the list of ‘constant’
membership but as for ‘allied’ membership..around 45 years.” –  Leonard Atherton


  • Jordan Frazier says:

    My grandfather, Maurice Sharp, was principal flute of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1931-1982. 51 years! I think he should certainly be included on this list.

  • David Crowe says:

    Someone else who should make the list:

    Ernest Zala – violinist, Fort Wayne Philharmonic, 56 years

  • Derek Warby says:

    I wonder how ‘definitive’ this list can really be? All American orchestras, apart from two mentions of UK players. It is a shame that so many things produced by Americans wantonly ignore the rest of the world. Hello! There’s a whole planet out here full of orchestras with long-serving members!

    • Gerhard says:

      This may have a lot to do with the fact that there is no mandatory retirement in the US. Together with quite diversified pension plans, to say the least, this may generally encourage very long playing carriers for those who are able to keep on playing. If you have an orchestra scene that embraces veteran orchestra members, the idea of simply going on for as long as it still works may seem like a normal and enjoyable option. If on the other hand you know that you will be dumped at age of 65, no matter what, and you have already been programmed at the conservatory that your playing will only decline after 40, you will have to arrange with these expectations as well, sad as it may be.

    • dlcello59 says:

      Last time I checked Norman Lebrecht wasn’t American.. Gerhard is of course right about mandatory retirement significantly limiting the tenures of players in most European countries.

  • would like to add Broderick Olson, Associate Concertmaster of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, about to start his 51st season!

  • A.H. Corbett says:

    Paul Renzi was Principal Flute of the San Francisco Symphony from 1944 until 2004. With 60 years of service, I believe that he also belongs on your list!


  • Andrew says:

    And then there’s Vic Firth, legendary timpanist of the Boston Symphony from 1950 until around 2000. Couldn’t find that stat.He was also founder of a large and wildly successful drumstick company for that time.

  • Norma Procter says:

    An interesting list. Has anyone worked out which instrument keeps its player at it longest? We are remembering Jack MacIntosh, trumpet, who seemed to go on for ever, but we cannot find any dates.

  • Carol Ferguson says:

    Speaking of flautists, how about the legendary Walfrid Kujala, solo piccolo with Chicago Symphony, with 46 yrs. of service, from 1954 – 2001?

    He was a founding member of ICSOM & a key figure in the racial desegregation of US musicians’ unions. He remains one of the most up-to-date, beloved members of the flute community. His son, Steve Kujala, also a superb flutist, can be heard playing the flute solos on the soundtrack of the current movie “The Help”!

    Dale Clevenger, Principal Horn of the Chicago Symphony, joined up in 1966 & is still going strong! That’s 45 years!

  • The numbers would probably be considerably lower if the musicians bothered to check each other’s pulse now and then. (-:

  • Colette LaFayette says:

    This is unheard of here in Europe.
    We are obliged to retire and step down at the age of 65 (men) and at 63 (women).
    What is the point, actually, of working working working playing playing playing etc etc etc so many many many years in an orchestra.
    Are they all waiting for a medal or just to get on this list?

    • dlcello59 says:

      They are not “wanting a medal.”– many players continue to play extraordinarily well and want to keep orchestral playing the focus of their lives past the arbitrary age of 65, including a number on this list– I am sure many a conductor, for example, would say Jules Eskin is one of the great cellists sitting in any orchestra anywhere in the world.

    • Gordon Cherry says:

      I believe it is called PASSION!
      Gordon Cherry
      Principal Trombonist (retired) Vancouver Symphony 1974-2009

  • fletcher says:

    Tasteless joke, Mr. Osborne. Especially for someone in your position, who’s worked tirelessly to promote the cause of justice in the orchestral world. Perhaps your humor would be better appreciated in Brazil.

    • For an even finer example of poor taste about orchestra musicians take a look at this article which appeared yesterday “5 Bizarre Darksides to Modern Orchestras”:


      Just think of it: within 24 hours an article about orchestra musicians was read by over half a million people. Over 15 thousand clicked on the link to my website so my eyes popped when I checked my visitor count this morning. (I had heard nothing about the article.) Nine and a half thousand have “liked” it on Facebook. There are over 600 comments. And all these numbers continue to rise. As Norman mentioned a while back, a little humor might be what we need to help reenliven (sic) orchestras. I dismissed the idea, but now I’m beginning to believe him.

      • I agree we need more humour, but this is sour and more than half-cracked.

        • I’m sure people in the Munich Phil are pretty sour. Via Facebook, the article has spread through the orchestral community like wildfire. My general impression is that most find it hilarious. And they seem to appreciate that the mass media has given at least a glancing thought to their world and some of the problems they face. Over 600,000 have now visited the site, and over 21,000 have linked to the full story on our site about Abbie Conant’s travails with sexism in the Munich Philharmonic. And all in about 36 hours. The power of the big media….

  • crussell says:

    There’s also Richard Kelley, still-active bass player with the LA Philharmonic since 1955….three years before Esa-Pekka Salonen was born!

  • George Goslee, Principal bassoon of the Clevelenad Orchestra 1943-1988, 45 years.

  • Ueslei Banus says:

    As pessoas que AMAM suas profissões, procuram desempenhá-las com o máximo de qualidade e dignidade ao longo de suas vidas, uma vez que não vêm-nas como PARTE de suas vidas, mas, sim, como algo ESSENCIAL, VITAL mesmo. Ao apreciar essa incrível lista de grandes músicos, profissionais que AMAM e se DEDICAM a notável, difícil e, ao mesmo tempo, maravilhosa profissão de ser MÚSICO, todos tocando por 40, 50 ou 60 anos, muitas vezes, numa mesma orquestra, me fez lembrar o triste episódio que ocorreu recentemente no Rio de Janeiro com uma das mais honradas e respeitadas orquestras brasileiras, em que músicos que dedicaram suas vidas ao crescimento artístico dessa instituição, que persistiram e seguraram as rédeas para que a mesma não sucumbisse em vários momentos difíceis pelos quais essa orquestra passou ao longo de seus mais de setenta anos de caminhada musical, foram tratados como parte menor da estrutura de trabalho.
    Fico pensando como deve ficar a cabeça daqueles que, de alguma forma, protagonizaram esse vexame. Será que conseguem estar em paz consigo mesmas? É verdade que depois do estrago feito, algumas tentativas de “consertar” o mal feito foram propostas, mas aí já era tarde. Essa ferida aberta no coração dessa orquestra vai levar muito tempo para cicatrizar, o que é uma lástima, pois não precisaria ter sido aberta. Nada deveria ter sido feito da forma como foi.
    É preciso lembrar que mesmo numa orquestra profissional onde se busca o aperfeiçoamento e o máximo em resultados artísticos, o MÚSICO, o ARTISTA que ali está SERVINDO à MÚSICA é um SER HUMANO que precisa ser respeitado, considerado, e não simplesmente descartado em nome de um suposto desempenho artísrtico internacional de caráter imediatista. Para se tornar um grande músico, há que se ter muita disciplina, muita determinação e força de vontade, principalmente num país como este em que há pouco incentivo ao estudo dessa arte que exige tanto de seus seguidores.

  • Samuel Thompson says:

    May I add one of my former teachers to this list? The late Raphael Fliegel performed with the Houston Symphony for over fifty years, with twenty-five years of his service including the post of concertmaster.


  • KRS says:

    Martin Ormandy (Eugene’s brother) probably played longer than any classical player, though not in a single orchestra. He joined the New York Philharmonic in 1921 and was in every pickup orchestra until 1996 (75 years). His obituary at http://www.nytimes.com/1996/06/07/arts/martin-ormandy-95-cellist-with-the-philharmonic-dies.html

    Eubie Blake began performing in 1902 and continued until his death in 1983 (81 years). You could say he created his own ensemble.

  • Antoine says:


    Donald Gibson of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra died last year at 77 years of age. He was a member of the orchestra for 54 years. He was a legend in the orchestra and certainly deserves the honor of being included on this list. He is missed greatly here.

    Best wishes,


  • V says:

    Violinist Don Gibson joined the Cincinnati Symphony on October 8, 1956, and played until his passing in September of 2010 (54 seasons.) He played his heart out in every concert, and was an amazing force in the orchestra.

  • Mark Stein says:

    My teacher, Richard Weiner, just retired from the Cleveland Orchestra after having been appointed in 1963 as a Section Percussionist, and as Principal Percussionist in 1968. 48 years of service in all