Classical Tyro

A Beginner's Guide to Great Music

History's Greatest Conductors

In November 2010, BBC Music Magazine took a poll of 100 of the world's leading conductors, asking them to name the conductor who most inspired them. The poll led to a ranking of the 20 greatest conductors of all time and like all lists of this sort the results are not definitive. The list should serve primarily as food for thought and a topic for stimulating discussion. Here's the ranking, as published in the March 2010 issue of BBC Music Magazine:
  1. Carlos Kleiber (1930-2004) Austrian
  2. Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) American
  3. Claudio Abbado (1933-2014) Italian
  4. Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989) Austrian
  5. Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1929-2016) Austrian
  6. Sir Simon Rattle (b. 1955) British
  7. Wilhelm Furtwängler (1896-1954)
  8. Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) Italian
  9. Pierre Boulez (1925-2016) French
  10. Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-2005) Italian
  11. Sir John Eliot Gardiner (b. 1943) British
  12. Sir John Barbirolli (1899-1970) British
  13. Terenc Fricsay (1914-1963) Hungarian
  14. George Szell (1897-1970) Hungarian
  15. Bernard Haitink (b. 1929) Dutch
  16. Pierre Monteux (1875-1964) French
  17. Yevgeny Mravinsky (1903-1988) Russian
  18. Sir Colin Davis (1927-2013) British
  19. Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961) British
  20. Sir Charles Mackerras (1925-2010) Australian
And what about the popular Venezuelan conductor, Gustavo Dudamel? Dudamel become music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009 when he was only twenty-eight years old. Apparently he was too young and too new to the conducting scene to be considered one of the greatest. We only have to assume that his time will come.

And why are there no women on the list? The omission is most likely due to injustice and the historic lack of opportunity for women conductors. In 2015,
BBB Music Magazine marked International Women’s Day by providing a list of 11 of today’s top women conductors.
  1. Marin Alsop
  2. Gisèle Ben-Dor
  3. Odaline de la Martinez
  4. Sian Edwards
  5. JoAnn Falletta
  6. Jane Glover
  7. Emmanuelle Haïm
  8. Susanna Mälkki
  9. Andrea Quinn
  10. Simone Young
  11. Xian Zhang