The world’s busiest conductor? Perhaps not

The world’s busiest conductor? Perhaps not


norman lebrecht

January 11, 2016

Every January, the Bachtrack website publishes an analysis of its worldwide classical concert listings, 28,000 in all. The repertoire never changes much, but the maestro worksheets are worth consideration.

According to Bachtrack, this man was the busiest conductor in 2015.

jonathan mcphee

He’s Jonathan McPhee and he’s triple-time music director of Boston Ballet, Lexington Symphony and Symphony New Hampshire. Bachtrack liested him conducting 28 times in December 2015 and plenty through the year.

The site ranks Simon Rattle as the world’s second busiest and Valery Gergiev as third.

We would gently challenge that placement. Gergiev has been known to conduct 49 times in a month – last April, in fact. Not all of his tour dates are listed on Bachtrack. By our count, he is by far the world’s busiest.




  • AB says:

    In December 2015 Gergiev had 32 concerts/shows…

  • MAB says:

    McPhee is not a major conductor. He leads amateur bands fairly adequately.

    • Just a member of the audience says:

      He conducts professional orchestras. Free-lancers, not amateurs. Big difference.

    • Bruce says:

      “McPhee is not a major conductor. He leads freelance and amateur bands like the Lexington Symphony, fairly adequately.”

      That’s nice. Unfortunately, the survey was not only for “major” conductors (or even good ones).

  • John Borstlap says:

    The many concerts that fill Valery Gergiev’s diary, are made possible by a unique, mystical gift, otherwise only available to saints: that of multiple presence which results in appearing at two or three different concerts at different locations at the same time.

    • AB says:

      I think the gift is different: he doesn’t need to sleep much. 3 hours nap in the private jet is more than enough for him. The second gift is good assistants, because he doesn’t rehearse at all. Ethically, it is not fair, on my opinion, towards the musicians, who carry the whole artistic responsability for the concert, having rehearsed with an assistant, having maybe 2 hours sound-check with Gergiev where they cannot play the whole programm through and to improvise during the concert. There’s no talk about doing music together, about working together, about interpretation. It should be just together.

      I faced many times Gergiev being late, that the audience had to wait with him. Once, he was late for Lohengrin performance and conducted only two last acts. I have already forgotten when I heard him inspired last time, when he rehearsed and found something special in the music. Last times it was always a tired, uninspired performance with the only goal to keep the musicians together, to make it loud and “full of engergy”, to mask the absence of serious musical thought.

      You call it a unique musical gift? I call it irresponsible sickness…

      • MacroV says:

        Some interesting perspectives there. I’ve seen Gergiev conduct about a dozen times all over the world – mostly with the Maryinsky. I’ve never heard a disappointing performance. That said, I can certainly see that with his schedule, there could be quite a few.

  • MacroV says:

    Are they measuring an entire calendar year? McPhee undoubtedly was busy conducting Nutcracker I December.

    Surprised to see Sir Simon so high; he doesn’t seem that busy outside Berlin and the occasional opera.

    • Max Grimm says:

      I believe they counted the entire year but only counted the concerts that were initially listed events on Bachtrack itself.
      So hypothetically, if Gergiev conducted 1.000 concerts and McPhee conducted 100 concerts last year but Bachtrack had only listed 90 of Gergiev’s concerts and all 100 of McPhee’s concerts on their site, it would result in McPhee being their world’s busiest conductor.

  • Peter says:

    Why should we care?

    But actually, I we count meters traveled by the conducting baton, Gergiev would be below the statistically relevant threshold even.

    Statistics, it all matters from which angle you distort the reality.

  • David Allsopp says:

    Quality not quantity, surely?

  • Stephen Owades says:

    I’ve sung several times with Jonathan McPhee (Elgar’s “Dream of Gerontius,” Mahler’s Eighth, Kancheli’s “Styx,” Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms”), and have great respect for his musicianship and skill. But he appears on a list of World’s Busiest Conductor mainly because of his work wth the Boston Ballet, with whom he does many performances of each program. This is the opposite of a jet-setter like Gergiev, who flies in for a quick rehearsal and performance before rushing off to his next engagement. The Boston Ballet did well over 40 “Nutcracker”s this past November–December, and I think he led all of them. He also did a multi-week run of Mahler Third this fall with the Ballet. And when he guest-conducts elsewhere it’s often in ballet engagements with many performances.

    Jonathan McPhee is leaving his post with the Boston Ballet shortly. I will be interested to see what directions his career will take.

  • Michael says:

    Jonathan McPhee is a new name to me and I suspect many others.