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Youngest conductor on record: the result

We thought it might be Lionel Bringuier, who’s come out on a DVD made when he was 24.

Other authorities suggested Roberto Benzi, but we have not been able to trace the date of his first recording. He began working with Philips aged 23 in 1960.

The closest we have come to a definitive junior champion on record is…. (drum roll) … Mikko Franck, the Finnish conductor who recorded Sibelius for Ondine in 2000, at the tender age of 20. Beat that.

franck2

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Comments

  1. Do you mean the youngest conductor, as in permanent or visiting conductor, or youngest to have led in an orchestral performance? If the latter, then the threshold age might be a bit lower. Note the following from Wikipedia on Joseph (“Joey”) Alfidi, who like General Joseph Stilwell, hailed from Yonkers, New York. (It’s a detail those Chinese who remember the great general with fondness might appreciate.)

    ” At the age of 6, he [Joey] had professional engagements to conduct the Miami Symphony Orchestra in Florida and members of the New York Philharmonic on Long Island.
    On November 18, 1956, the 7 year old appeared in Carnegie Hall, conducting the Symphony of the Air. The ambitious program included 2 overtures – those to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Rossini’s William Tell – Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony, and Beethoven’s 5th.
    At the age of 8, on November 17, 1957, he starred in the American TV game-show What’s My Line?.
    Further appearances in New York with the Symphony of the Air followed in 1957, 1958, and 1960, and Joey conducted in many other American cities and toured Europe. He attended rehearsals and concerts led by Leopold Stokowski, Guido Cantelli, Pierre Monteux, Sir Thomas Beecham, and Leonard Bernstein.[2]
    He was invited to the Vatican where he performed for Pope John XXIII, who said the boy might turn out to be “another Mozart”…………….Joseph Alfidi presently resides in Belgium where he teaches piano at the Royal Conservatory of Liège and continues to perform in public.”

    If a current search in the archives for someone 5 or under who might have broken that record proves unsuccessful, we’ll move on to looking for instances of conducting by other members of the primate family.
    Maybe Kovacs or Cleese could provide some leads?

    • This is all fascinating stuff, ed, but NL clearly meant The Youngest Conductor Who Led A Professional Orchestra In A Recording That Was Commercially Released. Looks like Franck and Harding are the leading contenders so far.

      • Ignacio Martínez-Ybor says:

        I go back to Pierino Gamba. He was born in 16 December 1936 (I just checked Wikipedia). His recording of Rossini overtures with the LSO was issued by Decca in 1956, which means he was probably 19 or 18 when the recording was made (NOT 20 as the YouTube entry says).
        Does that make him a winner?

        • NIgel SImeone says:

          I think you’re right. Pierino Gamba made that record of Rossini with the LSO on 1-2 September 1955 in Kingsway Hall (it was produced by John Culshaw). On 15-16 December he was with the LSO again recording Tchaikovsky and Liszt with Julius Katchen (all this information from Philip Stuart’s invaluable “Decca Classical 1929-2009″ online discography).

          So in September 1955 he would have been 18 years and 9 months old – have I got the arithmetic right?

      • MarK, Thanks for tolerating the silliness. It was fun while it lasted.

        • Ignacio Martínez-Ybor says:

          I think the undisputed winner remains Pierino Gamba whose Decca recording of Rossini overtures with the LSO took place in 1955 when he was 18, and was released in 1956, when he was 19 a bit BEFORE his 20th birthday, on 16December. Mr. Gamba I understand is still active teaching in New York.

  2. Nandor Szederkenyi says:

    I just don’t get this…
    What’s the point? Don’t we have more than enough conductors? And what’s the point of such “competition”? Business? Perhaps…
    I hope very much that the time for having all the super genius kids playing what ever instrument (and often disappearing few years later as not even musicians) will be over soon. Actually, this is even worse because conductors’ baton doesn’t sound ;-)
    So be prepared: the next “youngest conductor” will lead an orchestra from his baby carriage!

    I am pretty sure that doing certain things need time for a healthy development and for getting some experience.

  3. Daniel Harding can’t have been more than 19 or 20 when his recording of Turnage’s Dispelling the Fears (and Night Dances, I think) with the Phlharmonia was released by Argo in 1996.

    • Harding recorded Nicholas Maw’s Dance Scenes for EMI with the Philharmonia in October 1995; about seven weeks after his twentieth birthday.

  4. Ignacio Martínez-Ybor says:

    Does anybody remember Pierino Gamba? Did he ever record? I think he recorded some trifles for Decca…. way back…. I was very young myself at the time…

    • NIgel SImeone says:

      Certainly! (see my post above). He recorded some quite major repertoire too – but almost all concertos, with Katchen and Alfredo Campoli.

  5. David Boxwell says:

    2013: Harding still looks “seven weeks after his twentieth birthday.” (I’ll be hearing him conduct next week at the Vienna State Opera).

  6. Byron Hanson says:

    While questions of “youngest conductor” or “longest professional orchestra career” are before us, please consider the case of Lorin Maazel, who led the National High School Orchestra when he was only 8 years old. He conducted “Marche Slave” and the finale from Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony with the same orchestra a year later at the New York World’s Fair. Of greater significance are his debut with Toscanini’s NBC Symphony in 1941, a distinguished career with some of the world’s finest ensembles. and the fact that he’s still on the podium 72 years later.

    That even a handful of players chalk up more than 50 years in professional ensembles is all the more remarkable considering the difficulty of earning a chair before the age of twenty. Violinist Kenneth Kuchler is one to consider; Ken joined the Utah Symphony in 1942 and played in the orchestra until only a few weeks before his death early in 2008 — a span of just over 65 years!

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