A quick checklist of Berlin’s chief conductors

A quick checklist of Berlin’s chief conductors


norman lebrecht

January 07, 2022

The city has seven public-finded orchestras  and a remarkable array of conductors.

By longest tenure:

Staatsoper – Daniel Barenboim

Berlin Philharmonic – Kirill Petrenko

Deutsche Oper – Donald Runnicles

Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester – Vladimir Jurowski

DSO symphony orchestra – Robin Ticciati

Konzerthausorchester – Christoph Eschenbach/Joanna Mallwitz

Komische Oper – James Gaffigan

The city also provides funding for the period-instrument Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, and for several orchestra choruses.

UPDATE: This week, the British conductor Ben Palmer was named Chefdirigent of Babylon Orchester Berlin, which specialises in film music.


  • Most major cities in continental Europe have several 52-week season orchestras, while most American cities cannot maintain even one 52 week orchestra. The difference is that Europeans use a public funding system which provides more generous support for the arts than the USA’s unique and isolated private system.

    Even some cities in less rich countries like Mexico City and Caracas have multiple full time orchestras. Moscow has 12, London 8, Paris at least 6, Minsk 8, Munich 7, Vienna 7, Berlin 7, Prague 8, Stockholm 3, Budapest 9, Madrid 4, Barcelona 2, Athens 5, Bucharest 5, Caracas at least 6, and Mexico City at least 5. Here’s a list of these orchestras. Corrections welcomed. Even Tokyo has 8 full time orchestras.

    + Moscow Chamber Orchestra
    + Moscow City Symphony Orchestra
    + Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra
    + Moscow State Symphony Orchestra
    + Moscow Symphony Orchestra
    + Moscow Virtuosi
    + National Philharmonic of Russia
    + Russian National Orchestra
    + Russian Philharmonic Orchestra
    + State Symphony Capella of Russia
    + State Symphony Cinema Orchestra
    + Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra
    (Moscow also has more opera performances per year than any other city in the world, including Vienna, Paris, Berlin, and London. Meanwhile, New York is no longer even in the top 10.)

    + London Symphony Orchestra
    + London Philharmonic
    + Royal Philharmonic
    + Philharmonia
    + BBC Symphony Orchestra
    + BBC Concert Orchestra
    + Royal Opera Orchestra
    + English National Opera Orchestra
    (There are several other worldclass orchestras in London that are not full time such as the London Sinfonietta, English Chamber Orchestra, and Academy of St Martin’s in the Field.)

    + L’Orchestre National de Radio-France
    + Orchestre de Paris
    + Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
    + L’Orchestre de l’Opéra de Paris
    + Ensemle Intercontemporain
    + Orchestre de Chambre de Paris
    + Orchestre des Concerts Pasdeloup.
    + Orchestre Colonne,
    + Orchestre Lamoureux
    (The Paris Opera Orchestra has 170 members since the services must be rotated to meet demand. The last two orchestras are more marginal and may not be full time.)

    + Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
    + Bavarian Radio Orchestra
    + Munich Philharmonic
    + Bavarian State Opera Orchestra
    + Gärtnerplatz Opera Orchestra
    + Munich Symphoniker
    + Munich Chamber Orchestra

    + Vienna Philharmonic
    + Vienna Symphony Orchestra
    + Vienna State Opera Orchestra
    + Vienna State Radio Orchestra
    + Volksoper Orchestra
    + Vienna Klang Forum
    + Tonkünstlerorchester
    (The VPO and State Opera Orchestra use the same personnel, but the ensemble has 149 positions so that they can rotate the services. I think there might be other orchestras in the city I don’t know about.)

    + Berliner Philharmoniker
    + Konzerthausorchester Berlin
    + Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
    + Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
    + Orchester der Staatsoper Unter den Linden/Staatskapelle Berlin
    + Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin
    + Orchester der Komischen Oper Berlin

    +Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
    + Czech National Symphonic Orchestra
    +Prague Symphony Orchestra “F.O.K.”
    +Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra
    +National Theatre Opera Orchestra
    +The Capitol Prague Opera Orchestra
    +Prague Film Orchestra
    +Prague Chamber Philharmonic

    +Royal Stockholm Philharmonic
    +Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra
    +Royal Opera House
    +Stockholm Chamber Orchestra

    +Budapest Festival Orchestra
    +Budapest Philharmonic
    +Hungarian National Philharmonic
    +Dohnányi Orchestra Budafok
    +Hungarian State Opera Orchestra
    +Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
    +Concerto Budapest
    +Danubia Orchestra
    +Hungarian Railway Symphony

    + Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid (royal opera)
    + Orquesta Sinfónica de la Radio y Televisión Española
    + Orquesta Nacional de España
    + Orquesta de la comunidad de madrid

    + Orquestra Simfónica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya
    + Orquestra Simfónica del Gran Teatre del Liceu” (opera)

    + State Orchestra of Athens
    + Orchestra of Athens
    + National Opera
    + Radio Symphony Orchestra
    + Philharmonia Orchestra

    +State Orchestra of Thessaloniki
    + Orchestra of Thessaloniki
    + New Orchestra of Thessaloniki

    + National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre Orchestra
    + Belarusian State Academic Musical Theatre Orchestra
    + National Academic Concert Orchestra (jazz/pop)
    + Presidential Orchestra of the Republic of Belarus
    + State Academic Symphony Orchestra
    + State Chamber Orchestra
    + State Academic Zhynovich Folk Instruments Orchestra
    + State Radio Symphony Orchestra

    + The George Enescu Philharmonic
    + The Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra
    + The National Romanian Opera Orchestra
    + Radio Chamber Orchestra
    + Bucharest Operetta and Musical Orchestra
    Caracas, Venezuela
    +Orquesta Sinfónica de Venezuela
    +Orquesta Filarmonica de Venezuela
    +Orquesta Sinfónica Municipal de Caracas
    +Orquesta Sinfónica Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho
    +Orquesta Sinfónica Juan José Landaeta
    +Orquesta Sinfónica Simon Bolívar A
    +Orquesta Sinfónica Simon Bolívar
    +Orquesta Sinfónica Barroca

    Mexico City
    + Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional,
    + Filarmónica de la Ciudad de México
    + Orq. Filarmónica de la UNAM
    + Orq. Sinfónica del IPN
    + Orquesta del Teatro de Bellas Artes and
    Orquesta de Cámara de Bellas Artes
    There are also two youth orchestras that are seen by some as providing full time jobs.

    + The NHK Symphony Orchestra
    + Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra
    + Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra
    + Tokyo City Philharmonic
    + Japan Philharmonic
    + New Japan Philharmonic
    + Tokyo Philharmonic
    + Tokyo Symphony

    • Gregor Tassie says:

      In Moscow, there is the State Symphony Orchestra (named after Svetlanov), also the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra (two ensembles) and there are a couple of other orchestras

    • M says:

      The American Government funding system for the arts- offering a full tax deduction for every corporate or individual donation to say, an orchestra- results in far more lost revenue to the government than is pumped into German orchestras. Also: no one has to bow to the likes of Monika Grütters to be funded. Much freer…. And partly why a tutti member in Boston makes more (much) than a Principal in Berlin. But I’m gonna upvote your comment anyways, if for no other reason than I really appreciate the effort it took to type all those ‘+’s !

      • Yeah, more lost revenue and with the result of 1/10th the number of orchestras. Not too bright. And yes, most European orchestras do not allow special contracts. Everyone is paid according to the contractual scale. A solo chair in Berlin receives less than a tutti player in the LA Phil. This more sensible and democratic use of funding allows for many more orchestras and thus a much richer cultural life.

        Another result is that in the USA, arts funding is concentrated in a few financial centers where the extremely wealthy live while regional areas remain culturally impoverished. In Europe, the funding is spread evenly throughout all regions so everyone has more access to the arts.

        And by the way, any intelligent person learns not to give a damn what the plethora of Trumpistas, Fox Newsers, Breitbarters, and Bexiteers on SD do with their thumbs.

      • Anon says:

        The musicians of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (as of their pay cut in 2020) make a base salary of $120,000/year, about €105.000 or €8.800/per month. Base pay for the Berlin Philharmonic is €8.000/month. Your comment is off base. Plus Berlin hosts many more orchestras than Boston. The only full time orchestra in Boston is the BSO. While Boston has a rich cultural tradition and a lot of work for freelancers, I think it kind of pales in comparison to many of the major European cities. I grew up in Boston and now live in Germany. I’ve seen first hand as a working musician how both systems work and I must say the European system is far superior from the musician’s perspective. At least in my personal experience. I will never move back, though I do enjoy coming back for visits

        • I’m not sure you are addressing me, but if you are, you are mistaken. I didn’t mention the BSO. I mentioned the LA Phil where the base pay is $154,336 per year, far above the Berlin Phil’s pay. The LA metro region has a population of around 15 million people, but only one full time orchestra while Berlin has 7. A private funding system creates a winner take all system that impoverishes our cultural lives.

          • Anon says:

            Hi William! No I was addressing the person above who did indeed mention Boston. Thank you for your insightful points! I fully agree with spreading the cultural wealth as you’ve said. You can find culture in literally all corners of Europe, from Tromsø to Palermo

    • Grabenassel says:

      Thank you for this list!

    • JB says:

      William, your list mixes very different situations. London has many orchestras (often badly paid) with much less government funding than their counterparts in France or Germany. In Paris, only the two orchestras of Radio France, Orchestre de Paris, the Opera orchestra and the EIC (31 members) have musiciens with full-time employment. The others consist of gig workers who have either another bread-and-butter job (music school or another orchestra) or are intermittents de spectacle (gig workers with generous unemployment benefits). French orchestras outside Paris are not so great, perhaps with the the exception of Toulouse and some baroque bands (which don’t have permanent jobs either). The richness of Germany not only shows in Berlin and Munich, but in first rate orchestras all over the country (Dresden, Leipzig, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Stuttgart,…), plus much interesting second-tier stuff. You do not mention Italy, where European government funding has somehow not led to many great orchestras.

      I think the difference between the US and Europe is not about money, but about the fact that classical music in the US is basically imported culture without much roots. If the Americans wanted more classical music, there would be more American orchestras.

      • That London orchestras have less pay is exactly my point. Instead of one winner take all orchestra, funding is used to support five orchestras which creates more cultural richness. Same story throughout Europe where public funding leads to a more democratic distribution of funds.

        Italy has about 12 opera houses almost entirely funded by the government. That lack of symphonic culture in Italy has complex origins in part unrelated to funding, though Berlusconi eliminated all the radio orchestras except one exactly because he wanted to emulate the American model of private funding. The American disease has also negatively affected arts funding in the Netherlands.

  • Guglhupf says:

    If by longest tenure the list should read Barenboim, Runnicles, Ticciati, Rubikis (he’s still GMD at the Komische Oper!), Jurowski, Eschenbach (he’s still GMD at Konzerthaus!), with Mallwitz and Gaffigan as designates.

  • Andreas B. says:

    Christoph Eschenbach

    Mallwitz will start next season

  • Open-minded Music lover says:

    Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin is arguably the most exciting young HIP band in the world! Check out their album of the first 2 Beethoven Symphonies, or of the Pastorale, incredible work. And ´conductor’ is the concertmaster, so very historically accurate :p

    • Michael says:

      The Akademie für alte Musik (Akamus) is great – but calling them “young and hip” is an enormous stretch 🙂

      • UK Arts Administrator says:

        HIP is of course also the trendy acronym for “Historically Informed Practice” (or near equivalents), formerly known as “period instrument” but now indicating that practitioners have read (and maybe also digested?) all the relevant treatises as well. [Akamus has been around since 1982, and several of its current members have played since the start].

  • Michael says:

    Norman – that’s nice news about Ben Palmer, but the Bablyon Orchester Berlin, unlike the others, is not a state funded orchestra. So the relevance here is obscure. If you are listing all professional orchestras in Berlin, the list would be much longer (Berliner Symphoniker, das Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin, the Lautten Compagney…)

  • PianistW says:

    Let’s be serious: Babylon Orchester Berlin is a low level per-service orchestra. There are other professional orchestras in Berlin that are more worth mentioning… Perhaps they are not conducted by a fellow Brit, Norman?

  • Zain Khan says:

    Los Angeles? We have one major orchestra. Oh well…