The youngest music director of an international orchestra?

The youngest music director of an international orchestra?


norman lebrecht

August 23, 2016

Lionel Bringuier was just 26 when he was named music director of Zurich’s Tonhalle. That, however, ended badly.


Lahav Shani is 27 on announcement today and will be 28 when he becomes chief of the Rotterdam Philharmonic.

lahav shani 2

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, just turned 30, has taken up the baton with Birmingham’s CBSO.


Any other major music directors currently under 30?


  • Alvaro Gallegos says:

    Teddy Abrams, the highly talented music director of the Louisville Orchestra.

    • filharmonika says:

      Krzysztof Urbanski
      when appointed, he was /is?
      the youngest music director in USA

    • Zubin M. says:

      Ilan Volkov was the youngest ever director of a BBC symphony orchestra – the BBC Scotish SO. At 24 i believe. He was the ideal candidate for the Birmingham orchestra. I wonder why such talented musician does not have a directorship position.

  • Sasha says:

    “Conducting… this is a profession for the second half of life” ~Yuri Temirkanov

  • Ross says:

    Seems like the uber-cool thing to do these days.
    Critics and public relations are leading the contrarian charge that one doesn’t need years and years of experience to lead a major orchestra. It’s not true, of course, but it’s certainly a sensational thing.

    • Paul Wells says:

      Barenboim got his first music director gig at 33. Masur at 27. Chailly at 35. Haitink at 28. Bernstein at 27. “Seems like the uber-cool thing to do these days,” wrote the London Times in 1964.

      • Sasha says:

        Kurt Masur also said “after the war a lot of conductors were either dead or banned from performing, so it was easier to get opportunities then”.

      • Peter says:

        Masur got his first gig as MD (Dresden Philharmonie) in 1967 at the age of 40.
        Before he had the typical career of a German Kapellmeister, gaining enormous amount of experience on that long road through smaller opera houses and assistant conductor and repetitor jobs.

  • Gunter says:

    Joshua Weilerstein, 28 – Music Director of the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra.

  • Virenque says:

    How old was Barenboim when he was at Orchestre de Paris?

  • Bruce says:

    Mehta, Haitink, Chailly, Salonen, MMT, Rattle, and on & on ad nauseam all got their starts with big (or at least reputable) orchestras before age 30. (Looks like Ozawa started in Toronto at age 30, so you can include him or not.) It’s not a new thing.

  • Jaybuyer says:

    Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (thank heavens for keyboard memory!) turned 30 in April. Her official debut in Birmingham on Friday is a sellout.

  • Jon H says:

    It’s not such a problem of youngish conductors – they do have to conduct somewhere – but the best orchestras can’t really be at their best because the person on the podium is still working out the details of their vision. The best orchestras are also good at resorting to a “house” interpretation and so they know who they have to help out and who to take seriously.
    But if younger conductors conduct more provincial orchestras it forces them to be clear in what they want – because the orchestras won’t be able to save them if they aren’t.

    • Theodore McGuiver says:

      Good point, well made. This is really the crux of the matter. You can put a donkey in front of the Vienna Phil and it’ll still sound fantastic. However, a much lesser orchestra will not, and it’s here that young conductors should learn their trade. The ‘Ochsentour’ didn’t do Carlos Kleiber any harm…

  • TI says:

    Can I add the name of a former music director of a ‘minor’ orchestra (Personally, I don’t think the NZSO is a minor orchestra but some of you might).

    Pietari Inkinen was appointed as the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra’s Music Director in 2008 when he was 27. He finished his term last year and arguably made a very good account of himself and indeed the orchestra introducing new repetoire, doing the full Beethoven cycle (a highlight of the 2014 season) as well as recording all of the Sibelius symphonies and bringing a fresh, younger, more modern perspective to the orchestra. Didn’t think too much of him at the start but I have grown to respect his conducting. He’s already done a full Ring Cycle for Opera Australia, the more impressive as he came in virtually at the last minute. And his current career is developing nicely.

    A key to his success might be found in the collaborative attitude between him and NZSO. In a press interview, he said that one of the things he has loved about the NZSO is its open-mindedness. “You can ask anything and nobody says ‘No, this is how we’ve played it for 200 years’. [For] me coming very young, it was a good experiment. We could do anything and we did. We found our own way together of doing things.”

    I think Lahav Shani will do just fine at Rotterdam. Good luck to him.

    • Observer says:

      I’ve worked with Inkinen as a guest conductor and thought he was total jerk. Arrogant as hell.

    • Jay says:

      your insecurity is on display! why not let others judge how major or minor the NZSO is?

      • Bruce says:

        He’s not being insecure, he’s trying to disarm ahead of time the people who like to say things like “Zurich is a cultural backwater” unprovoked.

        That’s how I read it, anyway.

  • Edward Smith says:

    Rattle was 24 when appointed to CBSO

    Dudamel 25 when appointed to Gothenburg Symphony

  • toohightoosoon says:

    This is a fetish.

  • Novagerio says:

    Karajan was 26 when he was appointed Generalmusikdirektor in Aachen in 1934. It was a big move then, especially coming from Ulm and considering the important musical-theatrical tradition in Aachen…
    It’s not so much a question of how old you are when you arrive, but how much you have assimilated and how much you can give. And it’s of course also a question of how you’ve come to the top, via political or mediatic channels. The bottom line is ultimately talent and the ability to convey something.

  • M. Villeger says:

    If the successful and creative Ludovic Morlot tenure in Seattle is any indication of what young French flair maestros can offer, Lionel Bringuier would be a welcome relief in Vancouver…

  • Sagrant says:

    Rossini born 1792. 1815 direttore musicale del Teatro di San Carlo di Napoli.

  • Jay says:

    Michael Christie led the Queensland Symphony Orchestra at 27. Nicholas Carter recently began leading the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra at 29.

  • sa says:

    Beatrice Venezi (italy) 26 yo and conductor of La nuova orchestra Scarlatti (napoli)