Youngest ever player in an international orchestra?

Youngest ever player in an international orchestra?


norman lebrecht

May 29, 2014

Social media are abuzz with our news of the London Symphony Orchestra’s appointment of an 18 year-old co-principal trombone.

He’s the youngest principal in LSO history, that’s for sure. But there must have been some younger players in the ranks.

Neville Marriner, 90 last month, was playing in the LSO second violins at 15 in 1939 when senior players were called up to war. And there must have been more his age in other combatant countries.

So who was the youngest player ever to have won an appointment in a major orchestra?

Nominations, please.

Peter Moore MG_7700

UPDATE: The ball has started rolling.

Barry Tuckwell, principal 3rd horn with Melbourne Symphony at age 15 (h/t: Kylie Long)

Gregor Piatigorsky, at 15, was principal cellist in the Bolshoi Theatre orchestra.

Raymond Cohen, a violinist of 15, was the youngest ever to join the Halle Orchestra.

Oboist Leon Goossens joined Henry Wood’s Queens Hall Orch at 15, according to Wiki; some say 17.

Szymon Goldberg became concertmaster of the Dresden Philharmonic at 16 and of the Berlin Philharmonic three years later.

Peter Steiner, a 48-year vet in the Berlin Philharmonic, started at 16 in 1944 as a cellist at the Deutsch Oper.

Stanley Drucker, clarinet, entered the the Indiannapolis Orch at 16 and the New York Phil at 19 (H/t Andrew Condon).

Arthur Isadore Berv, horn, joined the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1923, when he was 17.

Bart Claessens joined RCO as 2nd trombone/basstrombone at the age of 17. (h/t: Harry Boom)

Michael Thompson was appointed Principal Horn of the BBC Scottish SO when he was 18 (h/t Anthony Kershaw).

Lynn Harrell and Josh Smith joined the Cleveland Orch at 19 (h/t Jeffrey Levenson)

Gunther Schuller was 17 when he was named principal horn with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (1943–5). Before that he played two years with American Ballet Theater. (h/t: Harold Braun)

Emmanuel Pahud was 18 when he was named principal flute ay Basle Radio Symphony.

Arnold Rosé was 17 when he took the concertmaster’s seat at the Vienna Opera in 1881.

Mark Abbott was named assistant principal horn in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at age 18. (h/t: Mark Stryer)

Charles Treger, according to a 1976 newspaper report, joined the Detroit Symphony violins at age 15, which puts him in the lead.

Venezuelan double-bassist Edicson Ruiz entered the Berlin Philharmonic when he was 17, the second youngest player in its history. He had to wait three years for tenure.

The youngest Berlin Phil player was a harpist, back in the 19th century.

Conductor Ward Stare started out as principal trombone of Lyric Opera of Chicago, aged 18. (h/t: Holly Mulcahy)

Michal Winfield may have become principal oboe of the Halle at 16 (awaiting confirmation)

Lawrence Leonard joined the LSO in 1939 as a cellist. He was 16.

Roger Voisin became assistant principal trumpet of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at 17 in 1935; he became #1 trumpet in 1950.

Paul Renzi became principal flute with the San Francisco Symphony in 1944 at age 18.

Manuel Huber, horn, joined the Vienna Opera orchestra at 20. He remains the youngest member of the Vienna Philharmonic.

Keep ’em coming…


Message from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra:

Frank [Villella, CSO archivist] said you had a query.  According to Frank, on our current roster, bass Mark Kramer was 19 when he was hired in 1974, and clarinet John Bruce Yeh was 20 when he was hired in 1977.


Adds Frank, “But since we don’t have birth records for all of our members (particularly from the earliest part of our history), it’s impossible to ever definitively say who was the youngest.”


  • Anthony Kershaw says:

    Michael Thompson

    BBC Scottish SO. Same age, I think. Maybe younger by a few months, or days?

  • Jon Teske says:

    Virtuoso and later Wieniawski prize winner Charles Treger was reported to be in the Detroit Symphony as a mid-teen. That would have been in the mid-50s. Didn’t Loren Maazel play violin in the Pittsburgh Symphony as a teen?

  • Andrew Condon says:

    Stanley Drucker was 16 when he joined Indianapolis Orch, 2 years before starting his 62 year tenure at the New York Phil

  • Mark Stryker says:

    Mark Abbott was named assistant principal horn in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at age 18. He remains in the orchestra, though he voluntarily moved down in the section some years ago.(For what it’s worth, I grew up with Mark in Bloomington, Indiana — we played on the same baseball team at age 14 and 15.)

    Charles Treger appears to have joined the Detroit Symphony at age 15 but it’s unclear to me whether he was a fulltime member of the orchestra or not at that time. I’ll ask somebody over the DSO to see if I can get a definitive answer.

    Mark Stryker
    Detroit Free Press

  • Paul D says:

    I believe that Michelle Zukovsky, principal clarinetist of the LA Philharmonic joined the orchestra when she was under twenty.

    • m2n2k says:

      Your belief is correct. And I believe that the very high quality of her playing now – 53 years later – is an even more impressive accomplishment.

  • harold braun says:

    I think Gunther Schuller was 16 or 17 when he entered the Cincinnati Symphony as French Horn player in 1942.

  • Andrew Deakin says:

    Not sure if they can be considered ‘international’ orchestras but Barry Tuckwell joined the Melbourne SO at 15 and the Sydney SO (under Eugene Goosens) a year later aged 16.

  • Jo says:

    How about oldest starting members?

  • harold braun says:

    Paul Renzi became principal flute with the San Francisco Symphony in 1944 at age 18.

  • harold braun says:

    And,of course,Roger Voisin was only 17 when he was appointed assistant principal/3rd trumpet with the Boston Symphony in 1935,which meant that he also played principal with the Boston Pops.

  • Elizabeth says:

    It’s true that there are many incredible musicians who started their careers quite young, but I think part of the excitement surrounding this appointment is that starting this young in an orchestra is becoming increasingly rare. Could you please do a complimentary article on the oldest starting orchestra members? That would be interesting as well, particularly since they get far less attention in the media.

  • Kylie Long says:

    Barry Tuckwell, principal 3rd horn with Melbourne Symphony at age 15.

  • Austin Hancock says:

    Roger Voisin was the assistant principal trumpet of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at 17 in 1935 (named principal 15 years later)

  • NYMike says:

    I believe one of the Royal Concertgebouw’s principal trombones joined while still in his teens.

  • Jem says:

    Lawrence Leonard (August 23, 1923 – January 4, 2001) was a British conductor, cellist, composer, teacher and writer. He was 16 when appointed as orchestral cellist with the LSO.

  • OC says:

    I believe Michal Winfield was appointed principal oboe of the Halle at 16

  • Beaumont says:

    Rainer Küchl joined the Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera as Concertmaster when he was twenty.

  • Harry Boom says:

    I think Bart Claessens joined RCO as 2nd trombone/basstrombone at the age of 17. Now he is one of the 2 principles.

    • NYMike says:

      Thank you, Harry. I saw him with the Concertgebouw in NY, probably his first year and wondered who the kid was.

  • Michael Schaffer says:

    Danilo Stagni became principal horn at La Scala when he was 16.

    Alois Posch (bass) became a member of the Wiener Staatsopernorchester when he was 18, and after the usual trial period, member of the Wiener Philharmoniker, and principal bass 5 years later.

    Gerd Seifert was a horn player at the Hamburgische Staatsoper at 15, principal in Düsseldorf at 17, later principal horn with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

  • Hungry says:

    Jaap van Zweden, concertmaster at Concertgebouw at age of 18.

  • Ewen McKay says:

    I believe Walter Weller became a member of the Vienna Phil at the age of 17. He was appointed Concertmaster 5 years later.

  • Nicholas A says:

    Could I pour some very cold water on this? I do not mean to decry the talent and potential of this young musician, but is it possible that someone with such lack of experience could fulfil the exacting requirements of such a major role? This is one of the greatest and most versatile orchestras on the planet, and each player is continually under enormous pressure to come up with the goods ALL the time, to weather the complexities of backstage tensions, the often quixotic nature of some conductors and soloists and in all of this to remain at least reasonably balanced in working a punishing schedule. I don’t believe any 18 year old has developed such skills.

    I feel this is an appointment which smacks of marketing and publicity and is thus potentially at the expense of the player- it simultaneously deprives the wealth of highly experienced players of the best quality the opportunity. I simply do not believe that a player who has worked extensively in a variety of principal roles with a number of the best orchestras would not be of greater long-term value than even the most prodigiously gifted neophyte. Of all the examples of very young musicians given above, not one in the fairly recent past walked into a job with such a major orchestra – certainly not one with the extensive revolving repertoire which the LSO manages.

    I certainly hope that there has been a considered and thoroughly prepared support framework laid out for this musician which will be of help in the role; and I certainly hope that the experience of being in the job will not result in serious problems for him further down the line. It is great copy for the PR team at the LSO and also Chetham’s – but it is this musician’s long-term success and happiness which matters the most. To all those first-rate trombonists with the experience demonstrably equal to the task, I am very sorry.

    • m2n2k says:

      These are all legitimate concerns, but without knowing the young man personally it is impossible to tell whether all this negativity is truly justified. There are some amazingly mature individuals among such highly gifted teenaged musicians.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      No, it has nothing to do with “marketing and publicity”. Nobody is going to buy a ticket to an LSO concert just because they have a very young trombone player sitting there. Maybe his parents will, or maybe he can get them free tickets. But for the vast majority of the concert going public, it really doesn’t matter and nor is it a marketing advantage. I don’t care either, I find the subject interesting enough for a brief discussion on a forum such as this, and that’s about it.

    • No says:

      It should be noted that the LSO members are the only ones that have any say whatsoever in the appointment of musicians to its ranks. The admin, be it marketing, PR, education or even the MD, have no input into the process at any stage. The LSO is a self-governing orchestra with a board and committee consisting of its own players. So you can rest assured that this is not “an appointment which smacks of marketing and publicity”. He has been appointed by a committee of his own peers. And very good luck to him.

  • Sarah says:

    Martin Schippers, now 2nd/bass at Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, started as 2nd trombonist at the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra Holland at the age of 19. His first gig with the RCO was at the age of 17.

  • mhtetzel says:

    Massimo La Rosa was 19 when appointed principal trombone of La Fenice. In 2007 moved to Cleveland Orchestra. His two cd´s Cantando and Sempre Expressivo are a joy.

  • Jon M. Samuels says:

    Emanuel Feuermann was appointed principal ‘cellist of the Gürzenich Orchestra (of Cologne) in 1919 at the age of sixteen by its’ conductor, Hermann Abendroth.

  • Jaime Herrera says:

    All of these are impressive but how do they measure up to Paul Kochanski, who was appointed concertmaster of the Warsaw Philharmonic at age 14? Mozart might have been younger when he was leader of his father’s Salzburg orchestra, but who knows?

  • Kenneth Berv says:

    My Uncle Arthur Berv was playing in the Philadelphia Orchestra at 15 with his teacher, principal horn Anton Horner, who was ready to move down the section. Stokowski wanted Arthur to replace him, and sent him
    to Cleveland for more experience where he played first horn and returned a year later to share principal with Horner, and later took over for him.

  • Greivsy says:

    Trombonist Davur Magnussen become Principal of the RSNO at 22

  • Timothy Reeves says:

    Jessica Sindell appointed principal flute of Oregon Symphony at age 22, but left for some reason after a few years….

  • Susan McKeever Gill says:

    I joined The Utah Symphony as a cellist in 1968 when I was 18. What a marvelous experience. Susan McKeever Gill