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London Symphony Orchestra: five famous conductors

Five of the LSO's most illustrious chief conductors

Who are the most famous conductors of the London Symphony Orchestra?

When Sir Antonio Pappano becomes the new chief conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra in 2024, he will be treading in some very prestigious footsteps. Here are five particularly notable names to have waved the LSO baton…

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Hans Richter (1904-11)

Hans Richter

The LSO’s first ever chief conductor was already a familiar figure when he took up the post in 1904, as the holder of similar posts with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester (which, along with the LSO, is one of the best orchestras in the world) and the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival. The Austrian’s remarkably illustrious CV also included being the first person to conduct a complete Wagner Ring cycle, plus the world premieres of works including Brahms’s Symphonies Nos 2 & 4, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, Bruckner’s Symphonies Nos 4 & 8 and Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius.

Pierre Monteux (1961-64)

Pierre Monteux

The French conductor was a sprightly 86 years old when he took over as LSO chief conductor, famously accepting the post only on the condition that he was given a 25-year contract with the option to renew. Though 48 years had elapsed since he conducted the notoriously riotous premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring back in 1913, there was still plenty of fire left in his belly, and he was greatly admired by players and audiences alike.

Recommended LSO recording: Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloë

André Previn (1968-79)

Andre Previn

Over his 11 years with the LSO, André Previn became a household name, thanks not least to his André Previn’s Music Night TV series with the orchestra and, especially, to his famous appearance – ‘Mr Andrew Preview’ – on the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show. With his own background in both jazz and classical, the American also expanded the orchestra’s repertoire significantly.

Recommended LSO recording: Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2

Claudio Abbado (1979-88)

Claudio Abbado

A very different type of personality from Previn, Claudio Abbado’s trademarks were impeccably prepared performances and a gloriously rich orchestral sound. Like Previn, though, the Italian was not afraid to push boundaries and his eclectic choice of repertoire for his opening LSO concert – Ferneyhough, Brahms and Tchaikovsky – spoke volumes.

Recommended LSO recording: Mozart’s Symphonies Nos 40 & 41

Colin Davis (1995-2006)

Colin Davis

A bit of a firebrand in his youth, Colin Davis had mellowed a little by the time he joined the LSO in his late-60s. Though perhaps best remembered for his performances of Berlioz and Sibelius, he led the orchestra through a number of complete symphony cycles and was a regular champion of new music.

Recommended LSO recording: Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique 

Read our reviews of the latest LSO recordings here

We named Abbado, Monteux and Davis among the 20 greatest conductors ever

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About Jeremy Pound

Jeremy Pound is currently BBC Music Magazine’s acting editor, having initially joined the magazine as deputy editor in August 2004. Before that he was the features editor of Classic CD magazine, and has written for a colourful array of publications ranging from Music Teacher to History Revealed, Total Football and Environment Action; in 2018, he edited and co-wrote The King’s Singers: Gold 50th anniversary book A former chorister at New College, Oxford, he later returned to the same university to study classics. Choral music remains a particular passion, as do early 20th-century English composers.