The world’s longest serving music directors

The world’s longest serving music directors


norman lebrecht

October 20, 2019

Today is Zubin Mehta’s last as music director of the Israel Philharmonic.

Has any current maestro held a podium for so long?

Here’s a ready reckoner.

1 Zubin Mehta – Israel Philharmonic – 50 years

2 John Eliot Gardiner – English Baroque Soloists – 41 years

3 Ivan Fischer – Budapest Festival Orchestra – 36 years

4 Michael Tilson Thomas – New World Symphony – 32 years

5 Valery Gergiev – Mariinsky Theatre – 31 years

=5 Yuri Temirkanov – St Petersburg Philharmonic – 31 years (pictured)

7 Daniel Barenboim – Staatskapelle Berlin – 27 years

8 JoAnn Falletta – Buffalo Symphony – 26 years (just renewed)

9Gustavo Dudamel – Bolivar Symphony – 20 years

10 Yu Long – China National Symphony – 19 years

= 10 Yannick Nézet-Séguin – Orchestre Métropolitain – 19 years

Who have we forgotten?


  • Gustavo says:

    Neeme Järvi – GSO – 22 years

  • Gustavo says:

    Neeme Järvi – ERSO – 25 years

  • Aurelia says:

    Joint 19, Riccardo Muti at La Scala

  • Ed says:

    Herbert von Karajan – BPO – 34 years.

  • Gustavo says:

    David Zinman – Tonhalle Zürich – 19 years

  • Hermann Lederer says:

    Barenboim Berlin 27 until now..

  • Good Old Times says:

    Yevgeny Mravinsky – 50 years, Leningrad Philarmonic

  • Pedro says:

    Mengelberg Concertgebouw 50 years.

    Michel Corboz Gulbenkian Choir 50 years and still going on.

  • Markus says:

    Daniel Barenboim Staatskapelle Berlin 27 years

  • Will says:

    William Christie, Les Arts Florissants, 40 years

  • Derek says:

    Yuri Simonov – Moscow Philharmonic – 21 years

  • Haselnuss says:

    Bernard Haitink – Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra – 27 years

  • Andreas B. says:

    Vladimir Fedoseyev, Tschaikowsky Symphony Orchestra Moscow:
    1974 – 1999 and since 2006
    (together 38 years)

  • fh says:

    steven sloane … 27 years

  • drummerman says:

    David Alan Miller, Albany (NY) Symphony, 27 years. Carl St. Clair, Pacific Symphony, 30 years. Neal Gittelman, Dayton Philharmonic, 25 years. Michael Morgan, Oakland Symphony, 29 years.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    This discussion has expanded to past tenures, when the music director duties included a greater number of concerts. Between concerts, recordings and overall years, I can think of two tenures that top most others: Eugene Ormandy at the Philadelphia Orchestra (1936-1980) and Neville Marriner at the Academy of St Martin in the Fields (1959-2000; wasn’t he de fact music director all those years?).

  • LP says:

    Harnoncourt – Concentus Musicus Wien – 63 years (1953-2016)

  • Uzi Shalev says:

    Eugene Ormandy, 44 years with the Philadelphia Orchestra .

  • CLarrieu says:

    Michel Plasson, Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse, 35 years !

  • Alasdair Munro says:

    How long was Harry Blech with the London Mozart Players?

  • Nils Angmar says:

    While some of the ensembles listed are ad hoc or don’t play year round, it would be interesting to see what those music directorship records at full-time orchestras amount to in „real time“.
    All too often „a year“ means „some weeks“ where MDs are concerned and a 10 year music directorship on paper frequently translates into a mere 2,5 years of actual time spent.

  • The Cuban Stallion says:

    Ernest Ansermet, Orchestre de la Suisse romande, 49 years (1918-1967).

  • M2N2K says:

    Apparently many of the contributors here are not familiar with the meaning of the word “current”. Hint: at the very least in this context it means “living”.

  • David C says:

    Michael Tilson Thomas – San Francisco Symphony- 25 years

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    Jordi Savall with his ensembles. William Christie with Les Arts Florissants.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Dieter Kober, 60+ Cchicago Chamber Orchestra
    I also thought of Yevgeny Mravinsky, 50 years, Leningrad PO, but Old Times there are not orgotten and beat me to it. Once Serge Koussevitzky was thought of as forever for just 25 years at BSO. It seemed like longer. He was a good conductor who evidently could barely read music.

  • Zvi Netanel says:

    To be accurate: Mehta was appointed Music Advisor in 1969 and Musical Director in 1977.

    And don’t forget James Levine’s 40 years tenure at the helm of the Met

  • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Eugene Ormandy, 1936-1980, 44 years. Philadelphia Orchestra.

  • Reed Perkins says:

    Not current, but well worth remembering: Frederick Stock, 37 years with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

  • Novagerio says:

    Eugene Ormandy 44 years with the Philadelphia.

  • Andrew Condon says:

    Franz Welser Most: Music Director at Cleveland since 2002/3 season. Contract recently extended to 2026/7

  • Gary says:

    Alfred Savia, Evansville Philharmonic 30 years

  • Trek says:

    Ozawa Boston 29 years

  • David H Spence says:

    Ernst Ansermet, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Eugene Ormandy, Yevgeny Mravinsky, Takashi Asahina, Willem Mengelberg, that’s who.

  • musician says:

    Gergiev. Chief in Mariinsky since 1989

  • Bostonian says:

    Seiji Ozawa, Boston Symphony 29 years
    Serge Koussevitzky, Boston Symphony 25 years
    Arthur Fiedler, Boston Pops 50 years

  • Bill Ecker says:

    Arthur Fiedler & the Boston Pops (1930-1979) 49 years.

  • Mahlermania says:

    Anthony LaGruth Garden State Philharmonic (NJ) 18 years

  • MWnyc says:

    While one obviously salutes the achievements of all these conductors, I wonder if it’s entirely fair to compare conductors who founded orchestras as their own vehicles (Gardiner, Christie, Harnoncourt, arguably Ivan Fischer), and whose orchestras never perform(ed) with other conductors, with conductors who were engaged and re-engaged by pre-existing institutions.

    That said, Concentus Musicus Wien has outlived Harnoncourt, and Christie seems to have lined up two successors (associate conductors Paul Agnew and Jonathan Cohen) so that Les Arts Florissants will outlive him.

    I’m not so sure the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists will outlive Gardiner; for one thing, I find it hard to picture Gardiner sharing authority with an associate/heir apparent the way Christie is doing. (And doesn’t Gardiner fund the groups himself, at least partly?)

    If I had to bet money, I would bet that the Budapest Festival Orchestra outlives Fischer, but that will probably depend on the municipal and national governments in Budapest.

    • bluepumpkin says:

      Les Arts Florissants and Paul Agnew’s wall-to-wall Monteverdi: not the way to go. I feel the group has lost its way a little. I know William Christie did Monteverdi but the real raison d’être of his group was French baroque.

  • Greg Tiwidichitch says:

    You’ve forgotten multitudes of conductors in smaller orchestras but it looks like your list is only for the big names. You should research ALL orchestras and not just big ones.

  • The guy on the train says:

    Levine at the MET, 1971-2017 or thereabouts, so 46 years?

  • Swiss cheese says:

    Gerard Schwarz – Seattle Symphony , 25 years

  • Vaquero357 says:

    I think NL’s original question pertained to conductors who are *currently still serving* in a position. But if we look to the past, Mehta’s 50 years at the IPO was tied by Willem Mengelberg’s 50 years with the Concertgebouw Orchestra.

    And though it was not a full-time conducting gig, Henry Wood made it to the 50th anniversary season of the Proms.

  • Dave T says:

    Johann Sebastian Bach, Thomaskirche, 27 years.

  • Randall says:

    Sir Georg Solti — Chicago Symphony Orchestra — 24 years

  • PJL says:

    SIR MARK ELDER 19 with the Halle and we hope many more to come after recovery

  • A lady says:

    Robert Spano at Atlanta Symphony. 20 years by the time he steps down in 2021.

  • Brian viner says:

    Engine ormandy Philadelphia orchestra

  • bluepumpkin says:

    in view of what I have seen below, ignoring those are not current, I think we now need a revised list of the top 10.

  • Arto says:

    Philippe Herreweghe and his Collegium Vocale, since 1970… so almost a golden Jubilee

  • James says:

    Takashi Asahina (Osaka Philharmonic) 1947-2001 (54 years)