Best Classical Music Conductor

Furtwangler? Toscanini? Karajan? Abbado? Bernstein? ...... Which one is your favorite? Why?
Still living and working is Yuri Temirkanov. My other favorite is Charles Dutoit. For historic my favorites are Karajan and Bernstein. I am ususally comfortable buying a recording of theirs I have no knowledge of sight unseen (or it that hearing unheard ??)
Temirkanov is very musically and emotionally gifted. He is the only living conductor who conducts with complete artistic freedom (much like Bernstein did, but a different style.) Dutoit is very consistantly good recording to recording. (So was Karajan.)
My favorite conductor you probably have never heard of is Benjanmin (Ben) Zander.
I dig Simon Rattle. More because he is adventurous with the material that he chooses to record than because of his conducting. I also have been very impressed with Esa Pekka Salonen.
Sugarbrie: A good nomination. Zander's reading of the Mahler 9th on Telarc is superb. Which orchestra is he affiliated with at this time? I'm still thinking of my nominations, but here's a thought to add--live or recorded? For example, while I think Dutoit's recordings have excellent sound, I've felt that he was too restrained in some of his interpretations. Same with Slatkin. But having heard both of them conduct the NY Philharmonic live, I would not have that reservation about them (others, maybe, but not that one). My favorite all-time conductor, live, is probably Bernstein, because his love for the music and the music-makers came through so clearly. Recorded, I'll have to think about that.
Ben Zander is a professor at a school for gifted young musicians that is connected with the New England Conservatory in Boston. His orchestra is the Boston Philharmonic (BP) made up of pros, NEC students and others. It was formed about 20 years ago. Ben was hired back then to conduct the local Boston Civic Orchestra. When the board of directors found his style too off-the-wall for them, they fired him. The entire orchestra quit in protest; formed the Philharmonic; and the rest is history. His landmark recording is the Rite of Spring with the BP. We are use to the small blurbs in the Penguin guide to classical music. The original Penguin review of Ben's Rite is a page an a half!! The Mahler 9th recording has a third CD with Ben giving a discussion of the piece along with a map of his orchestra setup. Was a grammy nominee. If you search "Zander" in or you can find some of them. If you cannot find recordings such as the Rite of Spring you can get them from the Boston Philharmonic directly. Web site is .org -- I use to live near Boston and had the pleasure of hearing him live which is even better.
Ben Zander is a Cellist by training. As a boy in Britain he studied with Benjamin Britten. Ben's students include Yo Yo Ma.
Thanks; I have that Telarc disc with his explanation--simply terrific. Also have his Beethoven 5th and 7th, which reflect unusual and compelling tempi which he believes were Beethoven's intent. I'm going to check out his other work. Interesting about him being a cellist--with my local orchestra, the New Jersey SO, I have felt that the best conductors for the orchestra, both when we were looking for a replacement for Hugh Wolff (Joseph Silverstein and the current music director and principal conductor, Zdenek Maacal) and now as guest conductors all happen to be string players. I wonder if anyone else shares that view, or if it was more a coincidence?
if i'm not mistaken, ben zander was recently featured on 60 minutes. he's the one who makes big bucks as a corporate motivational speaker, right? (BTW, i find nothing wrong with that, especially since he uses music as his grand metaphor.)
Why is there no such thing as history anymore? No one mentioned Reiner or Szell? Cleveland is cleveland but whenever the orchestra went to New York, the critics raved like Bernstein played for the Mets. And Reiner, no one handled soloists as well except perhaps Toscanini and he was a martinet. Columbia made horrible recordings of the Cleveland but the best RCA's produced by the legendary Lewis Layton were done with Reiner. And then you have Solti, and Haitink with the Concertgebouw. Sir Charles Beecham was no slouch, either (actually, you're a great slouch, judge).
Carlos Klieber has very few recordings, but the ones in the catalog are extremely good. Dutoit is probably the best in French and ballet music today, curiously he avoids the main symphonic repertoire. Karajan was extemely verseatile, massive body of work including opera, he has 3 or 4 versions of most works recorded, hard to beat when you look at his entire legacy.
I also agree with the Klieber nomination. I agree that there are too few recordings by Klieber out there. Rattle was amazing by putting the City of Birmingham on the map. I believe Rattle was just hired by Berlin to replace Abaddo who is also quite good. As far as what instruments they play there are a lot of pianists also; Bernstein, Wolfgang Sawal... how ever you spell it in Philadelphia. I have a Bach laser disc where Karajan plays the harpsichord; Daniel Barenboim also. Yes that was Zander on 60 minutes. He give a talk before every perforance of the Boston Philharmonic very much like what is on the Mahler 9th CD. He loves to prepare the audience so they get the most out of the concert. Ben's concerts are one thing I miss after I moved south.
Micheal Tilson Thomas and Eiji Oue.
I will also nominate Marin Alsop, music director of the Colorado Symphony, especially since there are so few female conductors at this level.
Since the thread is favorite conductor, may I forego recording quality? Carl Bohm (sorry for the missing umlaut). Try his reading on Beethoven 9th or Bach St. Matthew Passion. Wilhelm Furtwangler and his reading on Bach, Wagner, and Beethoven. Otto Klemperer on Beethoven. He did a wonderful Brahms 4th. Evgeny Mravinsky on Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky -- it will hit you like a blizzard; you will get frozen still til the end, taking massive storm hits without any defense. Eugene Ormandy, so underappreciated because he lacked the grandeur and power associated with legenday conductors. But, he excelled on lyrical readings, especially with strings. Among many good readings (Orff, Offenbach, Rachmaninoff, etc.) of his, Tchaikovsky 6th is my favorite -- quite different from Mravinsky's. Szell's reading on Smetana and Wagner. Bruno Walter on Mahler (not that many on CD). As recommended by the Penguin publication, his reading of Bruckner 9th is truly impressive. Hans Knappertbusch on Bruckner. Willem Mengelberg. Leopold Stokowski. But, some of their recordings are not up to par with sound quality; so, you may need a lot of imaginations to truly enjoy them. Nonetheless, reference performances to me (you may get different opinions from Penguin, Grammophon, etc.). Erich and Carlos Kleiber. Karajan. Temirkanov with big potential. Rattle on Mahler (literally every Mahler he did though not many :)). I wish he would try the whole Bruckner cycle. Too many still left unmentioned. Yet, wanna include John Williams -- easy on your ears :). Happy listening.
I like Leopold Stokowsky (Most of his recordings are exciting and on the edge), Bernstein (Beethoven and Mahler) Walter Bruno (Mahler), Dutoit (sonically excellent recordings) Beecham (English music particularly Ralph Vaughn Williams) and I love Ormandy because he is the first conductor I saw live with the Philadelphia Orchestra back in the 60's. Does anyone remember the guy who was huge Mahler fan with no musical experience who conducted Mahler's 2nd I believe? Don't remember with what orchestra. He later made a recording, suppose to be a great interpretation. This was about 8-10 years back.
The story I heard was some millionaire guy who leaned the one Malher symphony by heart and since he had the cash, was able to hire his own orchestra to perform it?? Don't know the truth of it. I will try to get his name. I will be listening to Temirkanov live in Baltimore tonight and I know some of the orchestra. Brahms 4th and Beethoven Piano No.5 Emperor/John Lill.
Sugarbrie That is the guy I'm talking about.
An amateur named Glebert Kaplan did the second with LSO in the mid or late 80's. I do not own the recording, so I do not have the booklet that comes with it, to give you more info about the recording. But, I did listen a couple of times in the music school library at my alma matur. It is well recorded. But, performance-wise, it may not stand with Zander's, Rattle's, Solti's, Tennstedt's, Walter's, or Klemperer's. Nonetheless, good performance, though, especially considering that he is only an amateur Mahler enthusiast. I remember that Kaplan made some grandiose claim in effect that Mahler would conduct the second as he did (since he studied extensively the contemporaries of Mahler as well as Mahler himself to prepare for the second -- an eccentric claim considering Mahler's eccentricities in comparison with his contemporaries). Thereby, some controversies surrounding the claim.
Oops, Gilber Kaplan, not Glebert Kaplan..
Darn, Gilbert Kaplan.. Nedd to chek speling befor postin.
Cogito is right; Kaplan made his fortune on Wall Street as a broker/investment adviser, I think, and so loved the Resurrection Symphony that he studied it intently and made that recording. I understand he was involved in the editing of the recording as well, doing some gain riding/mixing to bring out certain parts, etc. An interesting reading. Wouldn't call him a great conductor, though. Continuing the thread, I agree with many of the recommendations above; I'd like to add Sir Adrian Boult, at least on Vaughn Williams' music--I still view his cycles on EMI as benchmarks for that music.
Oh, and Kertesz (sp., I'm sure) for his Dvorak cycles.
Kitch29 with reference to Reiner and Lewis Layton producing how about one of my very favorite Russian showpieces "Scherazade" re-released on both Chesky records (vinyl) and Classic records on gold CD. This is my very favorite performance of that piece and as an added bonus on the CD is Stravinsky'a "Song of the Nightingale" which is a fabulous recording and performance. One of the best sounding orchestral CD's I currently own.
A number of fine names submitted for best classical conductor. As one or two others have noted, you can't have a legit list without Fritz Reiner, Eugene Ormandy, Georg Szell, etc., on the list. On my personal list I would also include Gerard Schwartz, conductor and music director of the Seattle Symphony.
sugarbrie: thanks for the nod to marin alsop. she is the center of a huge improvement in the quality of the colo symphony orchestra. like zander, she gives a little talk before each piece the symphony performs. after each concert she comes into the audience for informal "chats." BTW, ms. alsop is also the principal conductor of a major orchestra in scotland. can't remember which-- SDCAMPBELL, CAN YOU LEND ME A HAND? hard to argue with any of the other choices made in this delightfully stress-free thread. the best conductor i ever have had the chance to see and hear was eugene ormandy and the phila, symphony. they performed at the maytag auditorium in ames, iowa (iowa state university). that is a great acoustic space, believe it or not. wish we had it in denver, instead of our replica of berlin's theatre-in-the-round.
Fritz Reiner. It didn't hurt that he was well recorded with CSO on RCA during the golden age of stereo.
Ten years ago when I still lived near Boston, the Rhode Island Philharmonic was looking for a new music director. One of my best friends is on their Board of Directors. She invited me as her guest to every one of the "Audition" concerts that year, to get my opinion of the candidates; one being Marin. I had the pleasure of meeting her at the reception after the concert. She was one of the top two picks. The other person was hired, and Asian conductor who is now back in China as music director of the Bejing Symphony. At the time the RI Philharmonic would have been one of two or three orchestras Marin was involved with, and I believe the Board wanted someone who would move to Rhode Island and take part in the community. It not for that; if it was based solely on talent, she would have won. ------- Temirkanov and John Lill were fabulous. Lill is British; was Tchaikovsky competition winner in 1970. He usually stays in Europe, so I was not very familiar with him. His bio said he was recently performing in St. Petersburg, so Yuri must have invited him to come to Baltimore.
I will have to go with pure copper for this one.
I would sure like to hear more recordings from from Mariss Jansons, his Tchaikovsky/Chandos symphony series came out of nowhere and remains the reference for these works. His Mahler 2 is quite good, and he has some excellent Dvorak recordings. Like Carlos Klieber, we need to hear much more from this very gifted conductor. It would help if he landed major conducting post like Salonen did in LA.
I believe Jansons is in Pittsburg. So was Tilson Thomas and Andre Previn, so this is a good group.
This is an extremely difficult question to answer; it is very dependent upon what is being played. As an example, I think Karajan's 1962 recording of Beethoven's 9th is superb; however, conducting the 6th he sounds like he's in a hurry to get to his next recording. Carl Bohm does a superb 6th, but messes up on the 5th (no teeth). I heard Kurt Sanderling (with Radu Lupu) do a wonderful job on Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto, live, but his recording of Beethoven's 6th is a sleeper. SO, back to my original statement....depends upon the piece of music.
You are absolutely correct Dacostab, it depends upon the piece of music. Perhaps it would be interesting for some to get the perspective of a musician who has worked with these conductors: Kurt Mazur, great with the big Germanic works; lame with Mozart or Haydn and almost grotesque with Gershwin. James Levine, great musician with great technique and extremely meticulous with subtleties; obviously at his best with opera. Dennis Russell Davies, amazing technician with rare clarity that facilitates the performance of new works which often incorporate very complex rhythms. Ricardo Muti, conducts the way he is as a person; very elegant. Marin Alsop, very enthusiastic but not really in the same league as the great conductors. Nemee Jarvi, my all time favorite; great time (rhythm) with a certain vigor to his conducting that makes you want to play your best. There are many factors that affect how successful a performance (recording) will turn out to be. It is not only the conductor's predilections or limitations that are important. Some orchestras don't play certain music (composers) as well as others and there is only so much that a guest (or regular)conductor can do to wring a good performance of a given work out of them. Some orchestras simply don't like certain conductors and that can be very tricky for a colaboration to be fruitful. One thing that you will hear orchestral musicians always discuss among themseves is wether a conductor trusts them. In other words, there is a sense (or not) that the conductor will not panic and perhaps make unreasonable demands if something is not exactly right the first time around. That trust usually leads to the best and most spontaneous performances. Happy listening.