Principal Conductors of the LSO

In its 116-year history, the LSO has been led under the baton of 16 great conductors.

Pierre Monteux conducting the LSO

Pierre Monteux conducting the LSO

Hans Richter

An imposing and multi-talented musician, Hungarian-born Richter became the LSO's very first Principal Conductor in 1904. He was a champion of the music of Wagner and Elgar, whose music he conducted as part of the inaugural concert at the Queens Hall in June of that year.

LSO inaugural concert flyer, 1904

LSO inaugural concert flyer, 1904

Sir Edward Elgar

The LSO formed a very special relationship with Elgar; he asked Billy H Reed, then Leader, for help when writing his Violin Concerto and several of the members of the Orchestra were close personal friends of the composer. The LSO gave many first performances of Elgar's works, including:

  • Pomp and Circumstance March No 3, 1905
  • Falstaff, 1913
  • Cello Concerto, 1919
    with soloist Felix Salmond
  • Pomp and Circumstance March No 5, 1930

Image: Elgar conducting the LSO in The Apostles

Elgar and the LSO in Croydon

Artur Nikisch

Nikisch was a mesmeric Hungarian, short in stature with a Kitchener-like moustache and known universally as the 'Magician'. He took the LSO on their highly acclaimed tour to the US in 1912, the first British orchestra to visit America.

Programme cover for the LSO's 1912 US tour

Programme cover for the LSO's 1912 US tour

Sir Thomas Beecham

Beecham was offered the position of Principal Conductor in the 1915 season although, strangely, he was never actually acknowledged as such in the concert programmes! With his personal wealth he bailed the LSO out of their financial difficulties that year – he donated £100 to the Orchestra to clear their overdraft.

Albert Coates

A Russian by birth and temperament, Coates was not a man for bland performances or programming. He pioneered thematic concert series with the LSO. A stickler for discipline and accurate ensemble, he was never prepared to accept slipshod playing.

Did you know...?
Some of the LSO's earliest recordings were made with Coates conducting (only two with Nikisch in 1913 and 1914 predate Coates' first LSO recording in 1919).

Listen to the 2002 remastered versions of some early LSO recordings:

Coates and the LSO at Abbey Road Studios

Willem Mengelberg

After several years without a Principal Conductor, the LSO was badly in need of leadership which could revitalise its playing standards. Mengelberg had a superlative gift as a trainer of orchestras, and under his baton the LSO was able to regain its former reputation.

Sir Hamilton Harty

Sir Hamilton's appointment as Conductor-in-Chief also did much to raise the Orchestra's standards, but the urbane Irishman was not blessed with sufficient box office appeal and was swiftly dropped.

LSO logo, 1938

LSO logo, 1938

LSO logo, 1938

LSO logo, 1938

Josef Krips

The Orchestra struggled through the hard times of the Thirties and the Second World War without a permanent conductor. But by 1951 they were in a position to invite Josef Krips,a highly respected Viennese musician to become Conductor-in-Chief. Krips polished and refined the Orchestra's playing and together they gave outstanding performances of the core German and Austrian repertoire.

Did you know…?
In January 1960, although no longer Principal Conductor, Krips recorded all nine Beethoven symphonies with the LSO.

Pierre Monteux

86-year-old Monteux brought to the Orchestra a generation of experience and his concerts were marked by a musical integrity that few could match. He was held in great respect and affection by the Orchestra and following his death in 1964, the directors agreed not to appoint another Principal Conductor for twelve months.

Did you know…?
When Monteux became Principal Conductor at 86, he stipulated a 25-year contract with a renewal clause.

Istvan Kertesz

A hot-tempered Hungarian, Kertesz clashed repeatedly with the LSO Board over the extent of his powers as Principal Conductor. But his control of the Orchestra in concert was never in question; they held each other in high mutual respect and their performances together reached great artistic heights.

André (Preview) Previn on the Morecambe and Wise Show, © BBC

André (Preview) Previn on the Morecambe and Wise Show, © BBC

André Previn

Previn brought more than a little Hollywood razzmatazz to the LSO and through his Music Night series on BBC TV exposed the Orchestra to a much wider audience than ever before. Under his baton, many works by British composers were revived or premiered. He remained Principal Conductor for an unprecedented period of eleven years and in 1992 returned to the LSO as Conductor Laureate.

Did you know…?
Previn was appointed Conductor Laureate in 1992, and Conductor Emeritus in 2016.

Claudio Abbado

Abbado's period as Principal Conductor was ditinguished by some of the finest music-making heard in London for decades. His 'Mahler, Vienna and the Twentieth Century' festival was voted the most outstanding musical event in Britain of the 1980s.

LSO logo, 1980s

LSO logo, 1980s

Michael Tilson Thomas

MTT, as he is affectionately known, brought his skills as a communicator to the Orchestra. His television programmes and Discovery concerts with the LSO proved to be enormously successful. During his period as Principal Conductor, he explored a vast breadth of imaginatively planned repertoire.

Watch an interview with Michael Tilson Thomas in honour of his 50th year of collaboration with the LSO:

Sir Colin Davis

After making his debut with the LSO in 1959, and almost two decades as Principal Guest Conductor, the LSO cemented its relationship with Sir Colin when he agreed to become its Principal Conductor. He conducted the Orchestra in their first residency at the Lincoln Center in 1997 (and previously took the Orchestra on their first world tour in 1964).

Did you know…?
Sir Colin was the longest serving Principal Conductor in the LSO's history.

Valery Gergiev

Before becoming Principal Conductor, Gergiev staged a complete cycle of Prokofiev's symphonies that Principal Flute, Gareth Davies, described as 'a bold statement of intent, and a thrilling, if terrifying week'. Gergiev's tenure was defined by similarly ambitious projects, from his opening cycle of all Mahler symphonies to series of Dutilleux and Shchedrin, Berlioz, and Scriabin and Messiaen.

Sir Simon Rattle

Sir Simon first conducted the LSO in 1977 at the age of just 22! Forty years later, he returned to the Orchestra (and his home country) to become Music Director. When his appointment was first announced in 2015, he said:

'We share a dream in which performing, teaching and learning are indivisible, with wider dissemination of our art at its centre. I cannot imagine a better or more inspiring way to spend my next years, and feel immensely fortunate to have the LSO as my musical family and co-conspirators.'
Sir Simon Rattle

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