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Longest serving orchestral players – the ultimate list

Last UPDATED: March 2014

Hundreds of people have responded to a previous post I published about long serving orchestral musicians. Out of these reports and suggestions, I have compiled a league of honour of 26 men and women who served in one orchestra for more than half a century.

One significant trend emerges from this exercise. Almost all the players reported served in US, Soviet or pre-1945 British orchestras. Senior service in orchestras is almost unknown in continental Europe, obliterated by social legislation.
I have excluded freelancers who played in many orchestras, such as the excellent Martin Ormandy (Eugene’s brother) who joined the New York Philharmonic in 1921 and was in every pickup orchestra until 1996 (75 years). Or Eugene Levinson, who started in the Leningrad Chamber Orchestra at age 14, then joined Mravinsky’s orchestra and went on to become principal bass of the Minnesota orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. Retired last year after 26 years in NY, a 60-year career.

Here’s the premier league (updated March 2014):


1. Violinist Frances Darger: Utah Symphony 1942 to 2012 – 70 years – retiring at the end of the 2012 season.



Frances Darger

2. Bass: Jane Little, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra – 1945 to 2011- 66 years - current member.
“Asst. Principal Bass Emeritus of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Jane Little, first performed with the ASO in 1945 under their original name of
Atlanta Youth Symphony for two years before the orchestra officially changed to Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 1947.”

3. Principal Timpanist Richard Horowitz: Metropolitan Opera Orchestra 1946 to 2012 – 65 years – retired 2012.

4. Violinist Felix Resnick: Detroit Symphony Orchestra – 1943 until his death in April 2008 at age 89. 65 years.

5. Bassoonist David Van Hoesen: Lake Placid Sinfonietta NY – 1947 to 2011 - 64 years –  retired.

6. Helen Gerald, Amarillo Symphony, 1947-2009 (d. 2010) – 62 years

Helen played first viola, then violin, in the orchestra. She also founded the local Suzuki program.

helen gerald


=6. Clarinetist Stanley Drucker: New York Philharmonic  1948 to 2009 – 62 years – retired.
In 1948, Drucker won a post in the New York Philharmonic clarinet section.
In 1960, he became the orchestra’s principal clarinetist. In January 2008,
the New York Philharmonic announced Drucker’s retirement from the orchestra
at the close of the 2008-2009 season, for a total of 61 years with the
orchestra and 49 years as its principal clarinet.  Guinness logs his career
at “62 years, 7 months and 1 day as of June 4, 2009″.
Drucker’s final concert with the orchestra was July 31, 2009 in Vail, Colorado.


=6. Leonard Mogill, Philadelphia Orchestra, viola, 62 years (pictured on the right, 1967, with Irving Segall), 1930-1992

9. Violinist Earl Summers Jr.: joined the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra at age 12 as a section violinist in 1929, the founding year of the orchestra, and retired from performing in 1990 as Concertmaster of the WSO – 61 years.

10. Bassonist Oleg Talypine, 79, Leningrad/St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, c.60 years.

See/hear him here (fast-forward to 3′ mark). Interview here.

oleg talypine



11. Violinist Jerome Wigler: Philadelphia Orchestra – 1951 to 2011 retired - 60 years – age 91.


12. Paul Renzi, Principal Flute of the San Francisco Symphony from 1944 until 2004. 60 years service

paul renzi




13. Victor Simon, cellist, Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra, Moscow, 59 years – still playing


14. Richard D. Kelley, double bass, Los Angeles Philharmonic, 1956-2013. 57 years.


15. Principal Trumpet Adolph (Bud) Herseth: Chicago Symphony Orchestra – 1948 until 2001, and served as principal trumpet emeritus from 2001 until his retirement in 2004.  56 years.


16. Alexander Lepak – timpanist Hartford Symphony 56 years —



17. Ernest Zala – violinist, Fort Wayne Philharmonic, 56 years



18. Percussionist Joe Sinai: San Francisco Symphony ”His career as a symphonic performer began in 1915 [and continued to 1970]
… for 55 years with the San Francisco Symphony.”


19. Raphael Fliegel performed with the Houston Symphony for 55 years, almost half of that time as concertmaster.


20. Donald Gibson of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra died at 77 years of age. He was a member of the orchestra for 54 years.


== 20 Phil Blum, cellist with the Chicago Symphony from 1955 until his death in 2009, 54 years.


22. Maurice Sharp, principal flute of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1931-1982. 51 years.
= 23. Timpanist Alan Taylor: Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra, 1951 to April 1, 2002. 51 years.  (d. May 15, 2002, aged 71)

= 24. Hanns Joachim Westphal,  Berliner Philharmoniker, Violin, 1960-; 51 years, still playing


= 24. Broderick Olson, Associate Concertmaster of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, about to start his 51st season!


= 24. Principal Harpist Sidonie Goossens: “…Her professional debut in 1921
at a Prom concert, and took part in the first tour by the London Symphony
Orchestra.  She was Principal Harpist when the BBC Symphony Orchestra gave
its first public concert under its founder, Sir Adrian Boult, in October
1930, and she was still in the post when the Orchestra celebrated its golden
jubilee in 1980, the year she officially retired.”
At age 91 in 1991, she became the oldest person to perform at the Last Night
of the Proms concert, televised by the BBC.  She died at the age of 105 on
December 15, 2004.    50 years with the BBC Orchestra.
= 24 “Violinist Newton Mansfield joined the New York Philharmonic in 1961″ to 2011- 50 years – current member.

= Viola player Laord Bogdanoff, Philadelphia Orchestra, 1955-2005 (d. 2014)

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  1. harold braun says:


  2. harold braun says:

    I think Mr.Wigler hasn`t retired yet.At least he did play on the Philadelphia Orchestra European Festivals Tour earlier this month.

  3. What a great list! How about Walfrid Kujala? Member Chicago Symphony flute section, 1954 – 2002, 48 years. (Principal piccolo from 1957 or ’58). Also loved The Maestro Myth.

  4. David Sanders says:

    Phil Blum, cellist with the Chicago Symphony from 1955 until his death in 2009, 54 years.

  5. I was fortunate to have been a student of Frank Crisafulli who was a trombonist in the Chicago Symphony starting in 1938, and although I am not sure of the exact date of his retirement from the Symphony I know he served well over 50 years.

    • we’ll need dates if he’s to make the list

      • Tim Dowling says:

        Frank Crisafulli was still playing in the CSO in 1988 (I remember seeing him play in Bruckner 4th cond. Sinopoli in October 1988 and meeting him in Orchestra Hall). His successor Michael Mulcahy was appointed in 1989. Frank Crisafulli also played in the Civic orchestra from 1934-7

      • harold braun says:

        Frank Crisafulli played with the CSO from 1938 to 1989.

  6. Camille Avellano says:

    Since you made mention of Eugene Levinson’s career, my father, Joseph Guastafeste, retired last season after 49 years as principal bassist of the Chicago Symphony, preceded by 10 years as principal in the Dallas Symphony, preceded by 2 years in the New Orleans Symphony (at age 19) – a 61 year career.

    • Gary Curtis says:

      For 32 of Joseph’s 49 years with the CSO my wife and I have been privileged to hear his performances. He was a pillar of the Orchestra and will be missed.

  7. Douglas Howard says:

    Kalman Cherry, principal timpanist of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, retired in 2009 after fifty-one years in that position. He joined the DSO in 1958 upon his graduation from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. At Curtis he studied timpani with the late Fred D. Hinger.

  8. I didn’t realize such a list existed, but I’m not far from being on it myself. I am principal bassoonist of the Evansville (Indiana) Philharmonic Orchestra. I joined the orchestra in 1959, played from 59 t0 65, then 67 to 72, and again from 79 to the present. That’s 44 of the past 53 years, according to my calculations.

    BTW, I believe that Frederick Moritz was principal bassoonist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for more than 50 years. I met him when he was in his 90′s, and he was still playing, although not in the orchestra. Fred played the world premiere performance of Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben” as a young man. He was a percussionist at that time. He also played the first performance or side Russia of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony.

  9. Richard Gosnay says:
  10. Joseph Golan, who just passed away this summer, was a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for 49 years, from 1953-2002. He held the position of Principal Second Violin for 33 years, from 1969 until his retirement. He was appointed to the violin section by Fritz Reiner, was appointed to the position of Principal Second Violin by Sir Georg Solti, and retired under Daniel Barenboim.

  11. Robert Naglee, second bassoonist, joined the Oregon Symphony (then called the Portland Symphony) in 1959. Still active in 2011 – his 52nd season!

  12. Amazing list. Hats off!

  13. Milton Preves,Viola,Chicago Symphony 1934-1986(Principal 1939-1986)

  14. tripleforte says:

    I’ve been attending symphony concerts for 58 years, and still going strong. Going tonight as a matter of fact.

  15. Here’s a slightly different twist. For ninety-two years the Philadelphia Orchestra has had two second clarinetists. Jules Serpentini (1920-1962) and Raoul Querze 1962 to present.

  16. Don’t forget about Joe Guastafeste, principal bass of the Chicago Symphony for 50 years (retired last year) and he was also in Dallas for about 10 years before that I believe.

  17. Robyn Zimmann says:

    Ian Polster, Springfield Symphony Orchestra (Ohio). Trombone, 1962 to Present. (Principal 1962 thru 2007). Starting his 51st season with the SSO on October 8.

  18. harold braun says:

    Michelle Zukovsky,principal clarinet with the LA Philharmonic,just celebrated 50 years with the orchestra at its gala season opening night(all Gershwin program with Dudamel)

  19. harold braun says:

    Michelle Zukovsky,principal clarinet,LA Phil,50 years with the orchestra(entered 1961).

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