The world’s longest serving music directors

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?

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

  • 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.

  • 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?).

  • 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.

  • 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”.

  • 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.

  • 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

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

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

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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