Top 5 Violinists-turned-Conductors

Thursday, February 21, 2013

There are few things left for Joshua Bell to achieve as a violinist, but as a conductor he still has plenty of new ground to cover. This month Bell accomplished a milestone, releasing his first CD as the music director of the esteemed Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. The recording is appropriately titled Joshua Bell Conducts Beethoven. While Bell’s move is unconventional, it’s not unprecedented. We’ve gathered five other renowned violinists who’d successfully navigated their way embarked on successful conducting careers.

1. Georges Enesco rose to fame as a violin virtuoso, but his achievements soon eclipsed those of a mere soloist. As a student at the Paris Conservatory in the late 19th century, he won prizes both for his playing and his composing. Soon thereafter he launched his conducting career in 1898 in his native Romania. After World War I, he toured the world as both violinist and conductor, often simultaneously. His multifaceted career also inspired his students, such as Yehudi Menuhin, who went on to have a significant career as a violinist and conductor as well.

2. Itzhak Perlman is first and foremost a violinist, but listed among his long career accomplishments is a position as principal guest conductor with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and conducting stints at the New York Philharmonic, the San Francisco Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic and Concertgebouw Orchestra. This past September, Perlman pulled double duty as he opened the Boston Symphony Orchestra season, first playing and then conducting in an all-Beethoven program.

3. Nowadays, Eugène-Auguste Ysaÿe is known primarily as a composer and secondarily for his virtuosity on the violin, the instrument that benefitted most from his body of work. However, during his lifetime Ysaÿe spent significant time in front of an orchestra. He was the conductor of his own ensemble, the Société des Concerts Ysaÿe, and also the principal conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1918 to 1922.

4. The abundantly gifted violinist Gidon Kremer seems to take up a baton almost as often as his 1641 Nicola Amati. A third-generation string player, Kremer was recognized for his exceptional talents at a young age and still plays frequently with top orchestras around the world. Over the past 20 years, he’s expanded his role from soloist to musical director—in 1997 he founded the Kremerata Baltica on his 50th birthday—and conductor, often championing Eastern European composers.

5. Lorin Maazel is the only violinist on our list who’s achieved greater fame as a maestro than as a string player. Maazel, well known for stints at the New York and Vienna philharmonics, among others, started playing the violin at the tender age of five. Two years later he took up the baton. Maazel occasionally performs on the violin, though his instrument is no longer the 1783 Guadagnini, which he sold for more than $1 million in November 2011 to raise funds for his Castleton Festival.


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Comments [11]

Robert Preston could you possibly omit Jaime Laredo??? - winner of the first Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Competition, and frequnt guest conductor of many orchestras here and abroad.

Apr. 05 2013 03:41 PM
Susan from Amsterdam

Only that Joshua Bell is not conducting at all, he is directing from the leader's chair, playing violin. This is completely different, and other violinists of our days like Leonidas Kavakos do this too. The misleading information from Sony and Mr Bell himself has been spead purposfully (spin!) in order to open a door for him as a conductor while he has not even conducted yet. Will this be another Maxim Vengerov - another violinist who'd better stick to what he is good at?

Feb. 28 2013 06:02 AM
Sarah Baker from New York

Oh, yes how could you forget Pinchas Zuckerman:
Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra from 1980 to 1987. He later directed the summer festivals of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (1991–1995) and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (1996–1999). In 1999,[4] he became Music Director of Ottawa's National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO). In March 2012, the NACO announced the scheduled conclusion of his music directorship in 2015.[5] He has served as Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra since 2009. (from Wikipedia there may be omissions)

Feb. 24 2013 01:20 PM
L.Lubin from Fort Lee, NJ

And Paul Zukovsky, a virtuoso who wrote an important textbook on playing harmonics, is a conductor specializing in modern and contemporary music.

Feb. 23 2013 08:55 AM
L.Lubin from Fort Lee, NJ

Eugene Ormandy was a movie theater orchestra concertmaster when he first came to New York.

Thomas Zehetmair has made brilliant recordings as soloist of the Bach and Brahms concerti, among others. His disc conducting Verklaerte Nacht is one of the best ever. (Sadly, out of print, but Midge Woolsey used to play it once a month when she had the 11pm - 12 slot.

Feb. 23 2013 08:51 AM
Barry Owen Furrer

One does not think of bandmaster/composer John Philip Sousa as a violinist; however, could hold is own to the level of concertmaster under Offenbach in the 1876 Centennial Orchestra in Philadelphia. Sousa's fondness for the violin usually found its way on most Sousa Band concert programs from 1893-1923 featuring the talents of Susan Tompkins, Currie Duke, Leonora von Stosch, Martina Johnstone, Jessie Straus, Dorothy Hoyle, Jeanette Powers, Nicoline Zedeler, and most notable - Maud Powell.

Feb. 22 2013 11:10 PM
Rick O'Connell

Another forgotten violinist turned conductor
Is Joseph Silverstein of the Utah Symphony
and Boston Symphony

Feb. 22 2013 04:38 PM

Leaving out Sir Yehudi Menuhin from this list is a mistake indeed.

Yehudi Menuhin conducted the Royal Philharmonic (UK) in a nationwide concert tour I heard during my freshman year in college. I was pleasantly surprised to discover his conducting skills were quite good in a Romantic era piece such as Berlioz Symphony Fantastique. I came to the concert because the other work on the concert was the Mendelssohn violin concerto. He was not the soloist but his accompaniment was excellent in the Mendelssohn as you would expect him to have heard it done very well and very poorly when he was the soloist. Whooooooo's Yehudi indeed!

Feb. 22 2013 11:31 AM
Andrew B. from Lower Merion, PA

Agree with other commenters... Pinchas Zuckerman and Yehudi Menuhin are major omissions here.

If you're going to put Maazel on the list, you might as well also include Alan Gilbert, the current NYPhil Maestro. Gidon Kremer is maybe just starting to become known as a conductor, and who has heard Maazel play violin (ok, he did on a few Vienna Phil New Year's Concerts). Zuckerman and Menuhin can replace those two.

Feb. 22 2013 10:12 AM
JB From Queens

The author of this piece proves how nonsensical "Top Anything" lists can be. For some reason she felt Itzakh Perlman was more worthy of inclusion in the list than Yehudi Menuhin. I'm not sure why she only mentioned Menuhin in her comments regarding Georges Enesco. Menuhin conducted the Bath Festival Orchestra, Menuhin Festival Orchestra among others for something like 40 years.

Feb. 22 2013 08:10 AM
David from Brooklyn, NY

So Pinchas Zukerman is chopped liver?

Seriously: who has been at it longer and with as equally accomplished a career both on the violin (and we might mention viola...) and with the baton as Zukerman has?

Neville Marriner, Iona Brown and David Oistrakh also come to mind when mentioning great violinists who took to conducting extensively and as successfully as when their careers included only the violin.

Feb. 21 2013 08:36 PM

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