Who is your favorite conductor & orchestra?

December 30, 2007 at 06:53 AM · Who is your favorite contemporary conductor and orchestra? Currently, I am most impressed with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra also impresses me.

Replies (34)

December 30, 2007 at 06:53 AM · I am loyal to the Boston Symphony with Levine, but am less of a fan of their work under most other conductors... go figure. (exception: Haitink)

The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Ricardo Chailly are a force to be reckoned with.

Vienna is interesting, of course, because of the lack of a music director. I've only seen them live once, but the rapport they had with Daniel Barenboim on that occasion was phenomenal. That was the best orchestral playing I've ever seen.

December 30, 2007 at 02:22 PM · My vote goes to Esa-Pekka Salonen and Los Angeles Philharmonic.

December 30, 2007 at 03:54 PM · My vote goes for Eschenbach and the Philadelphia, or Welser-Most and the Cleveland. Vanska and the Minnesota is great as well.

December 31, 2007 at 03:43 AM · Thinking just about symphonies in the United States, I think conductor Osmo Vänskä is doing an amazing job with the Minnesota Orchestra. The New York Times recently wrote, "And on one night in early December the Minnesota [Orchestra] seemed, if not the best American orchestra (whatever that may mean), at least the most important."

In a world awash with recordings of Beethoven's Fifth, Vänskä recorded a masterpiece that has received special designations, such as a crown, as a superlative recording by the top rating books, such Grammophon. Listen to it. This year the Minnesota Orchestra is nominated for a Grammy for Beethoven's Ninth. The Minnesota Orchestra is definitely much better today than ten years ago and now restored to its previous glory under Skrowaczewski, Ormandy, Mitropoulos, and maybe Marriner.

An interesting Time Magazine Article in 1983 listed the "best" orchestras in America at that time. The article mentioned that the great orchestras used to be the Big 5: Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra and Philadelphia Orchestra. But the article said that, in the year of 1983, you should add these orchestras to the list: St. Louis Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony and Pittsburgh Symphony, with mentions in the article of Minnesota, Utah, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Denver, Houston, Detroit, Rochester, Buffalo, Washington D.C. and Atlanta. Today you could add a few more ensebles worthy of that list, including several per metropolitan area. (I have no idea which which are "up" or "down.") Despite financial pressures associated with big symphonies, there are many good ones these days.

Personally, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra is my favorite orchestra for the type of music I most like to listen to -- a smaller ensemble of many virtuoso-caliber players working in an often ensemble-like relationship, although they have been playing more larger-ensemble works. However, the SPCO does not have one conductor. Instead, they have several Artistic Partners, including conductor Roberto Abbado, pianist/director Pierre-Laurent Aimard, singer Dawn Upshaw and conductors Douglas Boyd and Nicholas McGegan. Until last year, Joshua Bell was an Artistic Partner. Otherwise, concertmaster Steven Copes leads the ensemble from his chair.

I think the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra gets a nod as an interesting American chamber orchestra, having recorded with Hillary Hahn. Otherwise, the best Chamber Orchestras are in Europe, such as the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (#1) and the English Chamber Orchestra.

December 30, 2007 at 10:35 PM · Anybody's favorite the Seattle Symphony with Gerry Schwarz??? LOL

December 30, 2007 at 10:43 PM · I don't think it is nice to make jokes about a very fine orchestra.

In fact I heard them recently with a guest conductor Rossen Milanov (who is associate conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra), and the orchestra sounded spectacular.

They sound so much better with guest conductors (that is just my observation).

December 30, 2007 at 11:29 PM ·

December 31, 2007 at 01:05 AM · For me it has to be the Vienna Philharmonic in Brahms, Beethoven, Mahler, R. Strauss, Wagner, Mozart et. al. Especially when they have someone like Mehta or Abbado in charge.

The other band I would always be willing to pay out big bucks to listen to is Abbado's Lucerne Festival Orchestra - so many absolutely amazing players and together with Abbado they generate such an awe-inspiring atmosphere. I believe there's a poster on here who plays with them too...

December 31, 2007 at 03:31 PM · For twentieth century music, no one equals Boulez, whatever orchestra he conducts. In Debussy and Ravel, I prefer the delicacy and clarity of Cleveland. For the heavier weight of Bartok and Mahler, Chicago. His recordings of Ravel with Berlin and Mahler with Cleveland and Vienna are also first-rate. No one alive can hear and balance the orchestral choirs like he can, or has his precise sense of rhythm.

What Boulez is for twentieth century orchestral conducting, George Szell is for the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; his legacy of orchestral recordings is unique. And the Cleveland Orchestra under his stewardship was as great as any orchestra.

That being said, there are plenty of fine orchestras and conductors around. Levine's recordings of Wagner with the Met Orchestra are excellent(my favorite is Parsifal with Jesse Norman and Placido Domingo}.

December 31, 2007 at 04:26 PM · as the "perfect combination," I have to go with Abbado and Berlin -- such an extraordinary musician and such an extraordinary orchestra.

December 31, 2007 at 07:10 PM · I echo the earlier praise of Vanska and Minnesota. People I meet scoff at the notion of there being a fine orchestra in the upper midwest and later feel foolish upon hearing the M.O. Their recording of Beethoven 9 is currently up for a Grammy, and I heartily recommend the entire cycle.

December 31, 2007 at 08:01 PM · Ormandy/Philadelphia


December 31, 2007 at 08:58 PM · I take lessons from the principal second violinist! The Philly is truly a great orchestra.

December 31, 2007 at 09:03 PM · It's so interesting to read about people's favorite orchestras on here. It's like many people have their favorite baseball teams and are loyal to them.

December 31, 2007 at 09:09 PM · Levine + Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

January 1, 2008 at 09:15 PM · First off: although Schwartz is having problems in Seattle, it does not mean that he's a poor conductor. I find him to be a great conductor and an even greater trumpeter. Nobody quite touches him in his readings of the great trumpet music out there; but this is not about him and his musicianship. Besides, the NYT knows how to spin the story so that he's the complete villain: that is the expertise of that rag; but he also has his side of the story that nobody seems to bother with. (although the elbowing incident is inexcusable in any instance...If it did indeed happen.)

But I shall mention in this thread another embattled conductor who really does the music justice; a man who makes magic of the greatest scores, making them his own in the face of the greatest competition: Charles Dutoit. He too was pushed out of his position from an ungrateful orchestra that he built himself. But his unique manner of music making is his real credit; I know of no other conductor short of the great Pierre Monteux who does Berlioz justice as Dutoit does; and no, Davis is NOT such a great Berlioz interpreter as it is said; he just publicized his activities more, so he is given all that credit. But Dutoit did as much and reads the music far better.

David Robertson also impressed me beyond others: when he came to the NY Philharmonic he conducted the innocent Beethoven Eighth and made of it a performance that is etched in my mind forever as the most perfect expression of that score I'd ever experienced.

Pinchas Zukerman is also a great conductor; I've never heard someone conduct Mozart or Haydn with such a combination of zest and humor, with precision and elegance; this all reflects his violinistic strengths as well. He's an all around genius!

January 1, 2008 at 10:53 PM · Unfortunately, I have never known anyone who has either heard or worked with Maestro Gerard who would describe him as a great conductor.

Perhaps you should see what one of the important NY critics says about him.


January 2, 2008 at 12:24 AM · Then I find it very puzzling: Seattle is a very, very large city, flanked by other big cities in the Pudget Sound. Seattle is where everybody in the region goes for a good time; something like what NYC is for its metropolitan area in NY, NJ and CT. Now, can you convince me that for almost 30 years the whole population of the Pudget Sound who enjoys symphonic music "put up" with the incompetence of Gerard Schwartz? You're just about saying that those people in that corner of the nation know nothing about music and don't even have taste.

Apparently he doesn't come close to the standards of New York's critics and for good reason: New York is a tough place to impress an audience because it is used to the likes of Toscanini, Barbirolli, Berstein, Levine and Maazel. But is that to say that Schwartz doesn't have his positive style and impact in music? Do you really think the people of Seattle are only able to maintain such incompetence, and not bring forth something greater? Perhaps his impact is far more positive than what the snobs in NY think; I've only been to concerts in NY--by various orchestras, but all guests here--and to tell you the truths, the idiots who write in the rags here--whether it's the Times the Sun, the post or whatever--seldome have a clue about what they write. I've been to concertts where I among the rest of the audience found ourselves in the greatest hights of ecstasy from the podium, and some second-rate, sniveling reporter wrote trash about the concert in the New York Times.

You are all violinists so you either know the story or should get to know the story about Isaac Stern's debut here in NY in Town Hall. The documentaries have footage of him saying it and I read it in his book too:

After the recital he collected all the newspapers that ran reviews about it and they all amounted to the most disparaging press anybody could read about himself. Paper after paper wrote how talentless he is and how he should go back to San Francisco. Well, he got onto a bus and rode it up and down the island for eight hours, mulling over his future. The New York press managed to throw him into complete turmoil.

Thankfully he returned and drove his career with determination till he became the great violinist we are all familiar with.

Yes, there still are detractors to Stern, calling him all kinds of names violinistically, but he kept on going, and he is indeed a hero to most of us; and an institution to all of us.

If Gerard Schwartz were to discontinue conducting because some jackass wrote a horrible review about him, then I'd tell Zinman to retire as well as Sawallisch, and I'd suggest that Anne Sofie Mutter should smash the damn violin of hers to save the world any more anguish.

January 2, 2008 at 01:13 AM · I think most people in the business as well as outside, know that Maestro Gerry is a good fundraiser, and it is most likely the reason for his long stay.

Having followed the fiasco of the SSO, I have also followed the Mostly Mozart Festival and the Royal Liverpool Orchestra scandals where he met his demise in both of those orchestras with similar reasons discussed in the NY Times article.

Musicians in Liverpool voted a vote of no confidence.

Read what happened afterwards and how that orchestra has been re-energized by a brilliant young conductor. Fascinating stuff.

I doubt that one can argue such strong opinions from "those" (great number of people) who have worked under him.

'Petrenko effect'

January 2, 2008 at 01:08 AM · I'll use some card lingo: I fold. I still admire him musically, but you're right to the extant that he may really be unsuitable to working with musicians in an orchestra. I just wonder why he's so naive; he could be such a lauded conductor in the greatest cities, but keeps up his rough handling of orchestra, thus undermining his chances. Isn't it in his best interests to maintain a good profile in the world of music? He may hold himself in a greater esteem than he should for the way he acts inter-personally.

But there's no denying that he's a truly great musician! And that'll be his redeeming factor in the long run... I just hope he fixes his act so that musicians can conclude the same.

January 2, 2008 at 01:23 AM · David,

I admire your willingness to defend him, but the facts speak for themselves. Most people I know, prefer to listen to the SSO with a guest conductor.

A few had summed it up like so: "in his hands the music had no line, no motion from place to place. It had no color, only the most routine kind of clarity, and no sense of style."

I don't think these are the kind of words one wants to be associated with even if you are truly "a great musician".

His redeeming factor in the long run may very well be the building of Benaroya Hall, which is truly spectacular, and putting Seattle Symphony in the spotlight.

January 2, 2008 at 02:07 AM · If a good fundraiser wanted to solidify his position, it wouldn't hurt to take on some good sized debts.

January 5, 2008 at 07:21 AM · I greatly enjoy Andrew Litton's conducting. I think he is highly underrated here in the US. He did a phenomenal job in Dallas, building not only a great fan base but superb community support for the symphony.

Someone like Andrew should definitely be heading up a major US symphony.

January 5, 2008 at 09:03 AM · "But I shall mention in this thread another embattled conductor who really does the music justice; a man who makes magic of the greatest scores, making them his own in the face of the greatest competition: Charles Dutoit."

His recording of Offertorium was really boring. I would say that he did a downright bad job making that concerto sound interesting.

January 5, 2008 at 02:57 PM · Timirkanov/St. Petersburg

January 6, 2008 at 09:27 PM · Whenever the same discussion is launched about "favorite violinist", the great names of the past such as Heifetz, Milstein, Oistrach, Elman, etc...are almost always the winners. But in this thread, no mention is made, curiously, of their great contemporary conductors such as Mengelberg, Furtwängler, Walter,Kussevitzky, Toscanini, Celibidache..Instead we read extatic comments about the Wauwatosa symphony or the El Paso philharmonic!! How come? Furtwängler's Beethoven symphonies or Mengelberg's Tannhäuser overture, to name a few, belong to the same category of recordings as Milstein's Bach, Heifetz's Vieuxtemps, etc...

January 6, 2008 at 11:48 PM · That's because the topic of the thread is contemporary conductor/orchestra teams.

January 7, 2008 at 12:04 AM · My favorite orchestra has always been the Czech Philharmonic--it's an orchestra of chamber players. I've not heard them over the past few years and but last conductor I heard them with was Albrecht. They have always played well and their ensemble was always very fine--but that was almost a generation ago and I have no idea what the next generation can or can't do.

January 7, 2008 at 08:10 AM · Right...I missed that (it's not in the title, though...)

January 7, 2008 at 08:34 AM · Israel & mehta

January 9, 2008 at 12:17 AM · to my surprise no one mentioned charismatic Mariss Jansons and both his BRSO Munich and RCO Amsterdam (the latter appearing in NYC in February4-6) Is Jansons not best known in US and Canada?

January 9, 2008 at 12:34 AM · Jansons doesn't conduct over here much I don't think. Maybe his heart is still a problem for going overseas? I have no idea...thats just wild speculation on my part.

In answer to the question...

Berlin Philharmonic with anyone(but mostly Abbado or Haitink)

Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela with Dudamel.

January 9, 2008 at 12:40 AM · yes indeed, after his heart attack some years ago he avoids conducting orchestras across the ocean as in the past Oslo Philharmonic and Pittsburgh Symphony so to get around the jetlag. He is much appreciated, even loved by musicians and audiences alike, eyerywhere.

January 9, 2008 at 07:57 AM · BBC Scottish SO with Ilan Volkov.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Violinist.com Business Directory
Violinist.com Business Directory

Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning
Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases



Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins


Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine