Top Ten Conductors

Vote For Your Favourite Conductor

Top Ten Conductors

Who's better, who's best? Make your choice from ten of the world's top conductors now and in the past.

  1. Arturo Toscanini
    76 votes
  2. Sir Thomas Beecham
    57 votes
  3. Sir Malcolm Sargent
    29 votes
  4. Herbert von Karajan
    219 votes
  5. Sir Georg Solti
    116 votes
  6. Leonard Bernstein
    201 votes
  7. André Previn
    64 votes
  8. Sir Simon Rattle
    229 votes
  9. Marin Alsop
    34 votes
  10. Gustavo Dudamel
    58 votes

Total votes: 1083

This is not a representative poll and the figures do not purport to represent public opinion as a whole on this issue

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Have your say

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Paul Stanyer, Hertford
What a ridiculous exercise, further evidence, as if it were needed, of dumbing down. As if there is any measure by which we could place say Karajan over Barbirolli but below Giulini! The BBC is now embracing, and at full speed ahead, the editorial values and procedures of Hello! magazine and the tabloid press. Having trashed and trivialised pratically every facet of life, now it’s turn of classical music to undergo the ‘phone this number now to vote for your favourite’ treatment. Classic FM started it of course with its fatuous Top Forty - great works ranked above or below others on the basis of listener’s knowledge of sound-bite excerpts of them. Everything today boils down to lists, winners, losers, people being voted off, press the red button now, viewers at home phone this number to register your choice…we are being treated like a nation of morons (no expansion necessary) so, BBC, allow me to suggest a shortlist of contestants that will enable you to boost the viewing figures for Maestro to new highs next year (after all, Peter Snow and the delectable Katie Derham were a tad representative of the middel class intelligentsia!). Tony Blackburn, Ross Kemp (aka Grant Mitchell), Jeremy Kyle, Coleen Rooney, John Prescott and last but not least, that national obsession, Amy Winehouse. Vote now! Maybe readers can suggest other ratings busting celebrities who could audition?

Steve Johnson
Well done Sue! Hopefully we shall see and hear much more of you conducting, you were so professional and in charge. I hope the series comes out on DVD soon! …?

Joshua Leff London
After listening to the 2 finalists conduct the first movement of Beethoven’s 5th this week (and I must say for meit was moving to watch) I took out a recording of Wilhelm Furtwangler’s account in a live concert he conducted in Copenhagen. Very very few reach that height . He was so alive. As he is not on the list I’m stuck on who else to vote.

Peter Schwann, Zurich
Is this list a complete joke?? I might go for Solti or Bernstein, maybe even von Karajan as an outsider. Forget the rest. You have overlooked the greats like Bruno Walter, Koussevitsky, Guilini, Masur, Bohm, Kubelik and of course Furtwaengler, plus Mehta as a great performer. If you must include the English ones, then mention Norrington.

J B Lockyer, Sussex
Well done BBC - you can even dumb down great music, musicians and musicianship by producing an arbitrary and quite loopy list of 10 conductors, omitting so many great names (many of whom have been mentioned by others) that it renders a pointless exercise even more pointless!!

Graham Buchan, London
Only four on this list are worthy of consideration. Which idiot compiled it? Stand up and be counted! No Carlos Kleiber, no Jochum, no Furtwangler. Completely stupid, and insulting.

Diane Davies Harpenden
Michael Tilson Thomas definitely a glaring omission! His “I love Tchaikovsky” series in the States opened up whole new worlds of appreciation for this great composer to American audiences. He follows in the footsteps of Bernstein for bringing the public up to the music, rather than dumbing down. A great educator, enthusiast, diplomat and an inspired conductor.

Susan from Crawley
You cannot be serious with this list when there are many supreme conductors you have not included. Anyway one cannot suggest there is any one better than the other. Total cr.p! What idiot suggest this in the first place.

Andrew Howell. Rochdale.
Any list of conductors without Barbirolli is a nonesense. I saw him once in 1962 and have been going to Classical concerts ever since. Why isn;t his wonderful successor Mark Elder on the list?

Mrs Zeigler, California
Robert Zeigler!

Susanna Knox, Oxfordshire
You cannot be serious!!…. far, far too many really celebrated conductors are not on this list as the above correspondents have pointed out.

Gary Brand, Cairo
I have no doubt that my favourite conductor, by far, is Evgeny Mravinsky. He was an absolute genius and inspired the orchestra to heights absolute!

Suze, London
I have to say I love Antonio Pappano. I am a regular at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and often find myself watching him more than what’s going on on stage!

Conor McDonald, Dublin
I struggle to take this list seriously because it includes Beecham, Sargent, Alsop and Dudamel. I am embarassed to confess I have never heard of the latter. Alsop & Dudamel appear to be your least courageous inclusions and it smacks of non musical considerations. How can this list not include Klemperer, Dohnanyi & Ormandy? What would be extremely interesting is to have a vote on this from members of several leading orchestras. They find sport in treating conductors cruelly, so only the best would rise to the top in their selections.

Michael Williamson, Cambridge
I agree with all these comments. A totally arbitrary list. And what about Sir John Eliot Gardiner or Benjamin Britten?

Kenneth Thompson, Doncaster South Yorkshire
After watching the Three Tenors,I think that Zubin Mehta should have been on the list, that`s for sure.

Andy, Liverpool
Why is vasily Petrenko not on this list? He is the best conductor ever.

Glyn Morrow York
Thank God you finally voted off that clowning show-off Bradley Walsh. He kept a good man (D Soul) from a rightful place in the 3rd round. Good show! Pity da public has the final say - what do we know!

David Freedman. London
Sir Colin Davis is a truly great conductor with a repertoire wider than almost any. Many of his interpretations are supreme and there is a generosity in his conducting whether working with the orchestra, soloists or in the opera house. He also does a huge amount of work with young people. He never conducts badly. He is a proven truly great conductor.

Tess, London
Vladimir Jurowski hands down every time and for many years to come. But it’s criminal the Mark Elder, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Bernard Haitink aren’t listed above. What loon came up with this list!

F. R. Mansveld, Oegstgeest, NL
It is a pity that you can’t vote for Bernard Haitink.

Steve Pitt, Halesowen
Blimey! Taking this little bit of web fluff a bit too seriously… I am one of the ‘ordinary’ people who has been a bit more enlightened about the wide world of classical music by the programme and website… and I am voting for Simon Rattle as he conducted in CBSO, Birmingham!

Syd Houghton-Hill. Shropshire

Tom Coucill, Darwen, Lancashire
What an impossible task! It takes years to be an experienced interpreter of great music, to be able to convey what you want to the great orchestras of the world. Beecham once remarked “I play the piece through to begin with, then we go over the finer points. How can you preach to such talented players as the Royal Philharmonic?” Well he was a great guy!! But there are so many different personalities, some specialise in the work of certain composers, Beecham loved Delius but could bring a lot of excitement to other composers and he also loved to lavish his skills on “lesser” works, Suppe, etc. I am sure you would not get that fun from George Szell - one of the great orchestral trainers. I have not gone through all the comments but is “Glorious John” (Sibelius’ description) Sir John Barbirolli in it - the founder of the post war Halle? I heard Simon Rattle conduct Berlioz’s “Fantastic Symphony” when he was at the beginning of his career with the Royal Liverpool Phil in King George’s Hall, Blackburn. He also did Elgar’s Enigma Variations - absolutely terrific and I said to my friend “Now there goes a potential great conductor”. (The performances made such an impression I remember them clearly.) Another I admired was Yakov Kreizberg - one could go on. Previn in Rachmaninov 2nd Symphony or conducting Ashkenazy (piano) - no mean conductor himself!! So the above list is just a list of some names which can be added to ad infinitum. Did anyone see the programme on the life of Georg Solti some time ago - obsolutely riveting.

Keith McDonnell, London
Ridiculous. This typifies the BBC’s nose-dive into the trough of mediocrity. Abbado, Haitink, Mackerras, either Kleiber maybe? Alsop or Dudamel - madness!

Rob, Dudley
The list omits too many wonderful conductors to have any real value. Instead may I propose that we nominate the WORST conductor from the realms of amateur music … I’ve whittled my list down to a mere thirty six !

Ehab Saad Aldin, Beirut

Julie Quinlan, Waterford, Ireland
Leonard Bernstein: a passionate man, musician, conductor and composer. He gets my vote.

Paul, St Helens
Frank Zappa anyone?

J. Bramley, Coventry
This list is plain silly, obviously made up by someone who thinks only of conductors who have been “on telly” or in the general public’s eye in the last 2 or so years. The whole idea of a list of greats is impossible. What would the cut-off dates be? How can you compare someone who is at the start of their caree with someone recently dead? No contemporary list could fail to include Haitink, Boulez or Abaddo. A tivial exercise.

Maureen Grayson, London
OK, so here’s the conductor who’s most inspired me over the years … He also restored the fortunes of the LSO during the 90s and he’s one of the greatest interpreters of Mahler EVER. For me, it’s Michael Tilson Thomas!

SIR RS KC, Wolverhampton
Otto Klemperer

David, Dublin
No Furtwangler, (Erich) Kleiber, Celibidache or Markevitch? Alsop and Dudamel - well, like the effects of the French Revolution, it’s far too early to tell. Previn - Greatly Married Conductor, perhaps, but ‘Great’? Although it’s not so much the individual names which aren’t there, on which we’ll all have our opinions/tastes, so much as the whiff of a list drawn up by the PR rather than the Music department. A BBC list of ‘great’ sports people would very likely have more integrity. This is the kind of thing which gives innovative arts programming a bad name.

Leen Roetman, Rotterdam
Past: Wilhelm Furtwangler Present: Valery Gergiev. Future? Perhaps Gustavo Dudamel, Yannick Nezet-Sequin, Andris Nelsons

Frank Taylor, Norfolk
What about Bruno Walter?

David, Darwen, Lancs,
What amazes me most is that neither your list or any of the comments have mentioned Daniel Barenboim!

Not Rob Brydon, Cardiff
No-one, I fancy could come up with a list of Top Ten Conductors - it’s an impossible task. I think this poll may be intended to be Just A Bit of Fun :-)

Graham Webb, Dunstable
Like many others leaving comments here, I cannot vote on the basis of the list provided. If I HAD to pick one though, it would have to be Solti. I don’t think anybody’s yet mentioned Sargent’s Proms co-conductor, Basil Cameron.

Greg, Cambridge
Why oh why no Furtwangler or (Carlos) Kleiber???

Gordon Ridout, London
Wait a minute… Previn? Alsop? And at the same time completely ignoring those who have not just changed the way we hear music but also (re)shaped our repertoire such as Boulez and Barbirolli? I’m sorry, but this really is a meretricious exercise, and - much as I’m enjoying the series - refuse to vote.

Sue, Felixstowe
Well, it’s a reasonable ten, but in no respect could it possibly be called a “top” ten - unless you’re looking for one or two conductors who could throw better diva strops than anyone else. And how could the BBC, of all organisations, leave out Boult?

Walter Hill, Dublin
Yes, no doubt some great conductors listed both past and present. Why not leave it to participants to put forward their own top three or even one instead of limiting the choice to ten pre-chosen conductors only. What about Sir Colin Davis, Sir John Barbarolli and Sir Adrian Boult?

Cody D'Langridge, Cheltenham
“N Igma”? Ho Ho, very funny! I think you might be on to something - maybe the list is conductors the web monkeys think most ordinary people might have heard of? Or maybe it’s a sinister plot to boost the record sales of those conductors?!

Purple Diva, Brighton
I agree that many wonderful conductors have been omitted, and some strange choices put on the list but I can vote, because my absolute favourite, Bernstein, is on there!

N Igma, Worcester
This is absolutely nonsense; how can you possibly have a list like this without Barbirolli? Pierre Monteux? Carlos Kleiber? Klaus Tennstedt? This is a list of show biz personalities, (excepting Beecham and Bernstein who WERE showbiz but did almost everything well). How dreary that the superficial glitz of Baby Rattle is in front… and how in God’s name did Sir Malcolm Sargent get onto the list …

Drew Morgan, UK
Very hard to vote… missing some mega names indeed! I would have voted for Gergiev, Abbado, Haitink, Mahler, Furtwangler, Boulez, etc… but instead I have to choose from Sargent and Dudamel? I don’t mean to negate their talent, but they just don’t really compare to these other names, do they?

RSW, Leeds
Another astonishingly bad, ill informed list dominated by the “mythical norm” list from the BBC! You must however be congratulated for keeping your normal flavour of the month - Charles Hazelwood - well away from this list.

Hazel McCarthy (Conductor), Staffordshire
I would vote for Marion Alsop as I have met her: I think she is a wonderful person and a brillant woman conductor. There is a great need for more women like her and she is out there encouraging women musicians to become conductors. I am a conductor myself and I was encouraged by her.

Ruairidh Mitchell, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire
I fail to see the gain in posting such a futile vote. Especially lacking the integrity that can be brought to the table by many of the Russian conductors such as Gergiev, Svetlanov and Ashkenazy, who seem to not even merit an appearance.

LC, London
Mariss Jansons. Many years ago I heard him on the radio conducting Rachmaninov’s Symphoney No.2. I’d heard the work before but this really made me sit up, all the more astonishing as the stereo was in the living - and I was in the bathroom!

Angie Sitton, Stevenage
I agree one of the greatest conductors is Bernard Haitink especially for his Mahler and Bruckner with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam. I have also personally played amateur viola for HSO under the baton of Iain Sutherland who I commend highly because he always got the best out of his players and instilled confidence in new players.

Barrie, Beverley
What exactly is the point of a rank order of conductors? I don’t understand the media’s current obsession with lists: top 10, top 50, top 100 of anything that does or doesn’t move. It’s an insult to all great conductors to produce this kind of list. It overlooks the particular affinities some conductors have with particular composers; it takes no account of their relative range of work or experience; it attempts to transpose the judgements on an entertaining but otherwise musically insignificant mixed bag of would-be conductors to our appreciation of towering figures of the musical world. Not a good idea and ultimately meaningless.

C, Dagenham.
Admittedly Alsop is a superb conductor but she has not the benefit of legacy like some of the above mentioned. The same goes for Dudamel to an even greater extent. Maybe there should be two lists, top ten greats of the future and established favourites? Sir Charles Mackerras and Sir Colin Davis are oversights as are Kleiber and Abbado. The problem is that ‘conductor’ is too general a term; for the purposes of this poll surely it should be orchestra conductor as not all orchestral maestri and strong in the pit and with singers.

Nesh, London
Is this list compiled for celebrities or great conductors? Dudamel? Alsop??? Get real BBC. The greatest one of them all, Sergiu Celibidache admired Furtwangler… and how on earth can anyone chose between the two? If the exercise of this whole project is to teach us, ignorant BBC viewers that conducting is an art form that INTERPRETS the other work of art, there are as many valid and excellent performances as there are great conductors. What’s next? Who is the better composer - Bach or Mozart? Beethoven or Bruckner? This little competition is just as bad as having one mediocre conductor sitting on the panel next to a national treasure, Sir Roger Norrington. If Vernon Handley was a woman I’m sure he’d be on this list… being the greatest living interpreter of British music counts very little in celebrity driven. politically correct BBC culture these days. Or maybe the person who compiled this list should have used a proper music reference book instead of google and Hello! magazine.

James Brown, London
Bernard Haitink and Carlos Kleiber would be musicians’ top two…

L, Leamington Spa
You say ‘vote for your favourite conductor’, but I can’t, because my top three are not listed. Who chose your top ten?

Susi Underwood, London
No vote from me. Why are Sir Charles Mackerras, Bernard Haitink, Vladimir Jurowski, Sir Mark Elder or Kurt Masur not on that list? Not to mention Sir Roger Norrington and Simone Young - I would rate both of them higher than some of the conductors on the shortlist. Come to think of it, I would also rate Matthew Rowe and Peter Stark higher than some of the shortlisted candidates.

John Underwood, London
No Charles Mackerras? Six of your top ten do not figure in mine and two others I have never heard. Others I would include are Vladimir Jurovski, Ivan Fischer, Haitink and Simone Young. Another who will not figure on many lists but is the best conductor I have worked with: Levon Parikian. The omission of Sir Roger Norrington from a list made in association with the Maestro programme is completely baffling. Do the compilers of this web site ever go to concerts? Do they play anything?

NZ, Germany
With all due respect to some of these people listed - they are nowhere in the league of some others that were missed - both Kleibers, for example, Carlos and Erich, Boulanger, Barbirolli, Kubelik, Mitropolous, Koussevitzky, etc., and that’s just taking those that are, sadly, no longer among us. Amongst the living conductors Boulez, Abbado, Jansons, Vanksa, and many others deserve a mention, don’t they?

Otto Bruno, King's Lynn
Replace Toscanini with Furtwangler, Previn with Boulez, Sargent with Barbirolli, Solti with Giulini, Dudamel with Dr Klemperer, and Sir Simon Rattle with Sir Colin Davis. Did you know that Sir Thomas Beecham shared his birthday date with Sargent, and with Duke Ellington, Zubin Mehta, and Rudolf Schwarz?

Doctor James Phyto, Guildford, Surrey
UNFORGIVEABLE! The list is missing Leopold Stokowski and Valery Gergiev - whoever compiled the list is taking political correctness just a tad too far!

Jonathan/West Yorkshire
What about Claudio Abbado, everyone in this country seems to forget he is the best conductor of living memory

alistair gibson, easebourne
why is sir colin davis not on there! ultimately one of our greatest ever conductors!

SGH Bristol
What about Willi Boskovsky who conducted the Vienna Philharmonic from the Violin - that must have been a physical and mental exertion for a whole programme!

Joel Jacklich, El Centro, CA, USA
Although few people outside of American Academia will know him, my vote would be for Daniel Lewis, formerly the brilliant conductor of the University of Southern California orchestra and professor of conducting at U.S.C.

Susan Langley, Ipswich
No Andrew Davies - oh dear!

Chris Sater, London
Surely it is insulting to put a token woman on the list.

Chris Butcher, Bristol
This is a pointless exercise since it disregards so many really great conductors of this and previous generations.

Pierre Boulez is undoubtedly one of the most refined and skilled conductors in history, other than him its got to be Solti no-one else gave themselves so utterly to the performance.

Michael Kenyon, Chorley
No Wilhelm Furtwangler and Valery Gergiev ??

dedparrot, dewsbury
no Furtwangler, or Kleiber?? oh, and no Klemperer? a flawed list at best…….sorry.

Robert Kenchington, Stamford, Lincolnshire
Don’t forget Sir Adrian Boult, BBC!

Ivor Solomons, Norwich
Not voting because I don’t like being told who to choose from, especially when the list is as flawed as this. No Furtwangler,Barbirolli, Horenstein, Cantelli, Mravinsky, Mitropoulos???? Instead Alsop, Dudamel,Sargent, Previn, Karajan?? Oh dear.

Flash Bristow, London
Where’s Leonard Slatkin? He gets my vote.

KS London
Bruno Walter, Karl Bohm, Eugen Jochum, Fritz Reiner, Erich and Carlos Kleiber, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Richard Strauss, Hans Swarowsky, Erich Leinsdorf, Wilhelm Steinberg etc. Where are they on the list?

Bambos Neophytou, Berkshire
My Top Ten beat your top ten, hands down: Szell, Colin Davis, Wand, Mackerras, Harnoncourt, C. Kleiber, Klemperer, Furtwangler, Mravinsky and Giulini.

David, Kent
Why not actually poll this properly and ask people to send in their own suggestions, rather than give us this narrow choice? You don’t get people to express their passion and explore these artists by telling them who they can pick between.

Chris Hong Kong
Simon Rattle will win because he’s the only one that many will have heard of.


Lesley Tobin, Leicester.
Sorry, impossible to vote for one of the above Conductors,as they all bring/brought something different to Classical Music.

Jean Clark, Penrith
Unfortunately I cannot cast my vote as, for some inexplicable reason, you have left off THE TOP Conductor from the list - i.e. Bernard Haitink

Michael, Bradford.
Certainly some graet names in there but where is Romanian genius Sergiu Celibidache (1912-1996), of the Berlin Phil, Stuttgart Radio Symphony and Munich Philharmonic, one of the world’s greatest and most underrated conductors? Difficult choice and hard to compare such differing approaches (not to mention the time difference). Under circumstances has to be Bernstein!

mary hall, eskdale
you have missed out john barbirolli

Farook/ The Hague
No Furtwangler or Carlos Kleiber or in the list?

d.h. ilkley
carlos kleiber

Martin Clay, Heathfield
Why is Wilhelm Furtwangler not on the list? Undeniably greater than at least five of the names you have given us.

The Best Of The Best

  • Arturo ToscaniniArturo Toscanini (1867-1957)

    Fiery, principled Italian conductor premiered Verdi and Puccini operas, took on the Fascists and Nazis, and whose fame spread worldwide through American recordings.

    • Listen

  • Sir Thomas BeechamSir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961)

    Bombastic, self-taught Beecham pharmaceuticals heir founded three orchestras and loved opera and French music; championed the works of Delius.

    • Listen

  • Sir Malcolm SargentSir Malcolm Sargent (1895-1967)

    Dapper English conductor nicknamed ‘Flash Harry’; beloved of choral societies, became a national symbol and darling of Proms audiences.

    • Listen

  • Herbert von KarajanHerbert von Karajan (1908-1989)

    Omnivorous Austrian conductor ruled in Berlin and Salzburg, harnessing recording technology and new media to market ‘perfect’ recordings and develop a personality cult.

    • Listen

  • Sir Georg SoltiSir Georg Solti (1912-1997)

    Mercurial, high-energy Hungarian conductor raised Royal Opera standards to unprecedented highs and recorded the first complete Wagner Ring cycle in stereo.

    • Listen

  • Leonard Bernstein Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

    Prodigal American conductor – a politico-cultural force, a musical polymath who wrote symphonies, operas, and musicals including West Side Story; famous for televised lectures on music.

    • Listen

  • André Previn André Previn (1929-Present)

    Berlin-born pianist, conductor and composer. Skilled in jazz, film music and the classics, became a household name in the UK with TV’s André Previn’s Music Night.

    • Listen

  • Sir Simon Rattle Sir Simon Rattle (1955-Present)

    Prodigiously talented Liverpool-born conductor. Built international reputation with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, now music director of the Berlin Philharmonic.

    • Listen

  • Marin Alsop Marin Alsop (1956-Present)

    Bernstein protégé enjoyed success conducting the Bournemouth Symphony now, with the Baltimore Symphony, America’s highest-profile female conductor.

    • Listen

  • Gustavo Dudamel Gustavo Dudamel (1981-Present)

    Energetic Venezuelan conductor emerged from El Sistema social music education programme to conduct the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, now music director of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.

    • Listen

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