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Top 5 Violinists-turned-Conductors

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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.