Past Music Directors & Principal Conductors

Rudolph Speil

1887-1894

Wilhelm Yunck

1894-1895

Johann H. Beck

1895-1896

G. Arthur Depew

1896-1899


Hugo Kalsow

1900-1910

Hugo Kalsow was trained as a violinist, composer and director.  He took over as director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at age 22 when he returned from formal studies at the Dresden Conservatory in Germany.  Son of the DSO’s first manager, Fritz Kalsow, Hugo Kalsow conducted the DSO for 10 years.

Weston Gales

1914-1917

Weston Gales was a twenty-seven-year-old church organist from Boston who had conducted concerts in Europe when he was invited by Miss Frances Sibley, a member of a prominent Detroit family, to be the first full-time conductor of Detroit's modest municipal orchestra. Sibley and ten young women from Detroit society families had each contributed $100 and pledged to find 100 subscribers to donate $10 each in order to support their ambitious and enthusiastic undertaking. Gales' first concert took place at 4 p.m., February 26, 1914, at the old Detroit Opera House. Not many would have guessed that this concert was a milestone in Detroit's tradition of supporting fine music, or that Detroit itself would soon shake the world with the mass production of the automobile.

Ossip Gabrilowitsch

1918-1936

Ossip Gabrilowitsch was an internationally known Russian pianist whose presence gave the DSO instant credibility. Additionally, he inspired the construction of Orchestra Hall just as quickly. The building was erected in four months and 23 days after Gabrilowitsch threatened to quit unless he and his musicians had a permanent home. A friend to Mahler and Rachmaninoff, and son-in-law of Mark Twain, Gabrilowitsch himself possessed greatness.

Franco Ghione

1936-1940

The colorful Franco Ghione came from an operatic background. Working with the major disadvantage of a language barrier (he didn't speak English), he would often explode in frustration when he was misunderstood during rehearsals. Ghione resigned in 1940 and returned to Italy.

Victor Kolar

1940-1942

As Gabrilowitsch's associate conductor, Victor Kolar was in the celebrated maestro's shadow for years. Still, his contributions were notable, particularly the plan he implemented for free concerts and symphony broadcasts for Michigan school children and his early recordings with the DSO.

Karl Krueger

1944-1949

Wealthy DSO patron Henry Reichhold, who had personally resurrected the Orchestra after it briefly disbanded, installed Karl Krueger in 1944. Krueger, former assistant conductor of the Vienna State Opera, guided the DSO through its years in the Music Hall (the old Wilson Theater). Bickering between the "Old Guard" patrons and Reichhold marked Krueger's controversial, though largely successful tenure. Eventually overcome by "office politics," both Reichhold and Kruegar quit and the DSO disbanded again.

Paul Paray

1951-1962

After two years of symphonic silence (1949-51), John B. Ford brought Paul Paray to Detroit to lead the orchestra's resurgence. Acclaimed in his native France, Paray proved to be the perfect choice as music director. Before long, the orchestra was back in the recording studio (which, ironically, was mainly Orchestra Hall, still prized for its remarkable sound), producing award-winning work for Mercury Records. The national radio broadcasts also resumed and a full slate of concerts was scheduled. In 1956, Paray took the DSO from Masonic Auditorium to Ford Auditorium – its new home.

Sixten Erhling

1963-1973

A native of Sweden, multi-talented Sixten Erhling was saddled with the unenviable task of replacing the greatly respected Paray. He was a workhorse who conducted 722 concerts, the most by a DSO music director. Known for his expansive repertoire, he led the Orchestra through a period of enterprising and ambitious music-making, giving 24 world premieres and playing a total of 664 compositions.

Aldo Ceccato

1973-1977

Amid much fanfare, Aldo Ceccato succeeded Ehrling who left to become head of the orchestral department at The Juilliard School in New York. A young, glamorous Italian (and son-in-law-to-be of Victor de Sabata, one of the first to conduct the Orchestra upon its revival in 1952), his tenure was short-lived, but included the introduction of some 46 new works to the DSO.

Antal Dorati

1977-1981

Antal Dorati was a regal, Hungarian-born American with an international reputation and a fiery personal style. Under his strengthening influence, the Orchestra began recording again with resounding success. Dorati's DSO recording of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring was the first CD to win the prestigious Grand Prix du Disque. In 1979, Dorati took the DSO on its first European tour, garnering rave reviews and standing ovations along the way. He resigned in 1980 and became conductor laureate.

Günther Herbig

1984-1990

Highly acclaimed in his early years, Günther Herbig continued Dorati's orchestra tours of the East Coast, recorded for RCA and resumed the DSO's coast-to-coast radio broadcasts. Perhaps his finest hour came in 1989 when, on a European tour of 14 cities, the orchestra was praised in all quarters for its sterling performances.

Neeme Järvi

1991-2005 Music Director
2005-  Music Director Emeritus

Like Ossip Gabrilowitsch, his colleague in spirit, the Estonian-born Neeme Järvi attended the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Like Gabrilowitsch, Järvi possesses enormous personal magnetism and tremendous musicianship. Upon the orchestra's return to Orchestra Hall in 1989, Järvi was charged with breathing new life into the DSO. He responded with alacrity and classical concert subscriptions doubled while broadcast syndication nearly tripled. Additionally, Järvi's highly praised CDs with the DSO and sold-out performances confirmed the opinions of international music critics, fellow musicians and audience members who considered him one of the most inspired conductors of his generation.

Learn more about Maestro Järvi at www.neemijarvi.ee.