Which maestro has the most jobs?

Which maestro has the most jobs?


norman lebrecht

June 15, 2017

Not a month goes by without the music director of one little-known North American orchestra taking the same post at another, and arranging to commute between them.

This is a common occurrence.

Less common nowadays is the phenomenon of a leading conductor holding several jobs in different countries. Herbert von Karajan held the record in the 1950s with five – Vienna State Opera, Berlin Philharmonic, Philharmonia Orchestra,  La Scala (German rep) and the Salzburg Festival.

One current champion, we think, works in triplicate. That would be Jonathan Nott at Geneva, and Tokyo and Junge Deutsche Philharmonie (he has given up Bamberg).


Can anyone beat that?

Well, there’s Rossen Milanov with four, or possibly five.

Any other busy batons out there?


  • Peter says:

    Junge Deutsche Philharmonie is a project based youth orchestra. Important work, but not the same as a chief position with a pro orchestra.

    Vasilij Petrenko does the same.
    Manchester+Oslo+EU youth orchestra

    Fabio Luisi? Zurich+Copenhagen+Florence?

    Paavo Järvi?

  • Olassus says:

    Some conductors can handle five jobs. Others would struggle to raise standards at a high school.

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    What point can there be in holding down so many jobs? Can there be a motivation factor other than greed? Charles Dutoit also had three or four orchestras at one point. I remember the half-a…..d job he did here in Paris. Yet he was capable of doing good work.

  • MacroV says:

    Number of jobs is kind of meaningless. Some jobs are very part-time, others very full-time. At one point Kent Nagano had the OSM, Bavarian State Opera, Berkeley Symphony, and was a part of the Russian National Orchestra conductor collegium (I think that’s what it was called). But only the first two were a major time commitment. Gergiev has Maryinsky, Munich, the Moscow Easter Festival, the White Nights Festival, and a decent amount of guest conducting. But are those all “jobs?” Moscow Easter is basically just a big domestic tour for the Maryinsky.

    Now YNS has Philly, Rotterdam, Orchestre Metropolitane de Montreal, and a few MET guest appearances as he prepares to take over.

    But how many weeks should a conductor spend at any one orchestra? How many different works/programs is it reasonable to expect a conductor to prepare in a year? If an orchestra does, say, 24 subscription weeks, do you really want him/her there more than about half the time? No matter how much an orchestra may like its MD, I suspect the players welcome a chance to work with other conductors.

  • mario lutz says:

    Herbert von Karajan also held the musical advisor post between 1969–71 at the Orchestre de Paris

  • Petros Linardos says:

    What I find more interesting is how focused someone’s career is. How much continuity there is in their work with orchestras. Like them or not, conductors like Thielemann, Barenboim or Muti currently work mostly or exclusively with very few orchestras, with which they have long established ties. The same applied to Karajan.

    • Peter says:

      Exactly. Quality needs continuous development at a minimum frequency.
      The mainstream jetset of these days is mostly just show biz. Great music happens mostly with the dedicated workers in long term relationships.
      Agents unfortunately drive the shallow jet set conductor show biz, since there is much more money in that model for them, compared to maestros doing fewer and long term contracts.

      But Karajan again. Wasn’t he the one setting the crazy trend of doing less than 8 weeks a season with his orchestra (BPhO) and still be called chief conductor? Well, the telephone was invented, and administration could be handled from Anif, but still.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        I’d love to know how many weeks per season Karajan worked with the BPO, and how this evolved in the course of his 34 year tenure.

        • Max Grimm says:

          IIRC, HvK initially only conducted 6 subscription concerts and the New Year’s concert per season, when he became chief of the Berlin Phil. While I have no idea how many weeks that translates to, I believe that his other engagements (guest conducting and working with the Vienna State Opera, Vienna Philharmonic and Salzburg Festival) took up 9-10 months out of the year.
          Over the course of his time with the Berlin Phil, the number of concerts with the orchestra grew to on average of ~70-80 concerts in Berlin, ~20-40 concerts on tour, in addition to other projects (ie. recordings) per season.

  • Ondrey says:

    Vladimir Jurowski
    LPO + Rundfunk Berlin + Svetlanov Symphony + Enescu Festival and few other smaller jobs

  • Ben says:

    Is that due to the greedy agencies?

    Is that due to conductor’s ego? (“I don’t need it, but I don’t want you to have it, so I’d take it”)

    Do some professional conductors truly make so little money that they have to keep grinding the stones to feed their families?

    Or, that’s purely passion for music?

    Many conductors over-worked, many orchestras under-rehearsed, we need way more provocatively dressed artists from certain gender group to save classical music.

  • Tom says:

    I genuinely don’t understand why so many orchestras accept this. Surely the way to develop an audience, a repertoire and the orchestra itself is for a chief conductor to commit properly to one job and one only? If an orchestra’s season is (say) 40 weeks, I’d expect a chief conductor to do 30 of those. That allows some time for guest conducting – and I think it’s healthy for orchestras to work with some other conductors some of the time – but means the boss has to be around and doing the job properly.

    Given how much of a figurehead a chief conductor is, surely that works better for community engagement/donors as well? The current system is just ridiculous.

    • MacroV says:

      I would think it’s a bit much to expect a conductor to prepare 30 weeks of programs in a season, or even 20. If a conductor has two orchestras, there is probably some amount of overlap in the repertoire, and there is probably overlap in the programs when guest-conducting.

      I would imagine most conductors figure they can handle X number of weeks of conducting every year. They can’t do it all at one orchestra.

      There is also a cautionary tale for devoting yourself to one orchestra: If you work too much with one group, you may not get known sufficiently by others. Eventually you leave that one job, and others might not necessarily hire you. I can think of one conductor who was in many ways a model music director – lived in the city, conducted a decent number of programs, did PR, raised money, etc.. – and then when he left, didn’t seem to get a lot of other work. The lesson I draw from that is: Always have more than one job, or at least a healthy schedule of guest conducting engagements.

    • Joseph says:

      It can be a very healthy situation for an orchestra to have a variety of guest conductors in a season, rather than the chief conductor doing as much as 75% of the programs as Tom suggests. No single conductor is adept in all parts of the repertoire — and most tend to stay away from the repertoire that doesn’t work for that. With a single conductor, major areas of repertoire can be neglected season after season, which is not a good situation for either the orchestra or the audience. Many orchestras have a principal guest conductor who handles multiple weeks and also develops an ongoing relationship with the audience; hopefully that appointment goes to someone whose abilities complement the Music Director’s without being in competition. This situation can also go a long ways to preventing conductor burn-out — as it’s said, familiarity breeds contempt. It’s not a model that works well for orchestras with a limited season, but certainly for full-time orchestras, it can work quite well indeed.

  • Donald Hansen says:

    Taking more than one post means one less opportunity for some deserving conductor.

  • M2N2K says:

    Having worked with many wonderful conductors, I still cannot imagine that a high quality orchestra would be happy spending more than 20 weeks a year with any one of them.

  • John Canarina says:

    As Colin Davis once told me, “It’s hard enough to do one job properly.”

  • Novagerio says:

    Paavo Järvi?…

  • Jerome Hoberman says:

    These conductors would work the same number of weeks per year whether they’re doing them with their own orchestras or as guests. Some people are happy to spend all their nights in hotels, enjoying what are in effect one-night stands with orchestras and then jetting away. Others prefer to spend that time living in one place for several weeks at a stretch, maybe even with their families. The first type might keep, at most, one music directorship at a time with the rest spent guesting; the second might — if lucky — enjoy several music directorships on which to lavish attention, and do little guest conducting. The point is that neither type is working more, or less, than the other.

  • Save the MET says:

    Any board who hires a conductor who will not give them at least 60% of their season should be removed.

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    It is hard to think of a great orchestra that did not have a mutually beneficial long term collaboration with a single conductor.

    • Peter says:

      Of course there is Vienna Philharmonic, but they are an exception, not the norm.
      Having talked to many orchestra musicians from many orchestras, I get the impression most prefer a more entertaining approach of many different conductors in a season, than the harder route of collaborating more intensely with a dedicated chief and a few other regular guests. Conductors who are too demanding and make them work too hard are diminishing their chances of being reinvited.
      It’s show biz also on that side of the business.

    • M2N2K says:

      It may be even harder to think of a great orchestra that did not benefit from working with several outstanding guest conductors while being in such a “long term collaboration”.