John Axelrod

Music Director, Swiss National Orchestra
Principal Conductor, Bucharest Symphony Orchestra, Romania


With over a quarter century of experience conducting nearly 200 orchestras worldwide, John Axelrod has established a visible profile as one of today’s leading international conductors. His extraordinarily diverse repertoire, from core classics, both orchestral and operatic, to contemporary to crossover, his innovative programming themes, musical depth and charismatic performance style have been widely praised and recognised by both audiences and critics. In 2020, Maestro Axelrod received the Special Achievement Award from the International Classical Music Awards for his outstanding contributions and interpretations.

Season 2023-2024 begins with two important events in his career trajectory: As a newly naturalised citizen of Switzerland, Maestro Axelrod has been named in August 2023 the Music Director of the Swiss National Orchestra, with a government sanctioned mission statement committed to promoting the excellence of Swiss musicians and composers with tours, recordings and special projects. And in September 2023 comes an exceptionally special recording with the Bucharest Symphony Orchestra, released on Orchid Classics and distributed by Naxos, featuring the two versions of Robert Schumann’s Symphony 4, op. 120. Entitled Schumann 41/51: Florestan and Eusebius, Maestro Axelrod explores how Robert Schumann’s bi-polar disorder influenced the original and revised versions of this beloved work which provides a compelling reason for the first time in recorded discography that both are released on the same recording.

Maestro Axelrod continues his over a decade long love story with Japan, returning this October and November to both the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony, the Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa and the Hyogo Performing Arts Center Orchestra, and making his debut with the Sendai Philharmonic to perform “The Samurai of Seville,” a double concerto for flamenco guitar, Japanese koto and narrator in both Japanese and Spanish, composed by José Maria Gallardo del Rey and based on the novel by John J. Healey, about the 1615 historical voyage of 12 Samurai from Sendai to Seville. Maestro Axelrod commissioned the work in 2019 and premiered it in 2021 with the City of Kyoto Symphony Orchestra, with whom he was Principal Guest Conductor. Mr. Axelrod will also teach a conducting masterclass at the Tokyo Conservatory, continuing his absolute commitment to educating and developing the next generation of conductors and young musicians.

In 2020, during the pandemic, Maestro Axelrod created CMO: Conductors Masterclass Online, and will be presenting from September through December 2023 a Great Maestros Masterclass Online Series, featuring such great maestros as Leonard Slatkin and Frédéric Chaslin, with more confirmed for 2024. In July, 2024, Maestro Axelrod will again serve for the 3rd time as President of the Jury of the Bucharest Music Institute International Masterclass and Competition for Conductors.

Maestro Axelrod also returns twice to open the 23-24 season of the Romanian Radio Orchestra with an all Rachmaninov program and again in February with Brahms, and continues his long relationship with the Belgrade Philharmonic, also returning twice this season with Bartok and Korngold. Other upcoming season highlights include his annual returns to the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano in January 2024, of which he was Principal Guest Conductor, with the full ballet of The Firebird by Stravinsky, and as the conductor of the RAI Pops with the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI in Torino in June. Other important engagements include his debut with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in an October 2023 tour to Hanoi and in Israel in January 2024 and the Wallonian Chamber Orchestra in February, and returns to the orchestras of South Netherlands, Cagliari and Palermo, among others.

Among his many other titles, Maestro Axelrod was unanimously elected in 2022 as the Principal Conductor of the Bucharest Symphony Orchestra, with a unique open-ended contract. From 2018-2023, Maestro Axelrod became the Principal Guest Conductor of the City of Kyoto Symphony Orchestra. From 2014-2020, Maestro Axelrod was the Artistic and Musical Director of the Real Orquesta Sinfónica de Sevilla. Other titled positions included Principal Guest Conductor of Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano from 2011-2018, Principal Conductor of the Pacific Music Festival from 2016-2018, Music Director of the NHK Jazz at the Metropolitan Theater from 2014-2016, Music Director of the l’Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire from 2009-2013, Music Director of “Hollywood in Vienna” with the ORF Vienna Radio Orchestra from 2009-2011, Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra and Theater from 2004-2009, as First Conductor of Sinfonietta Cracovia from 2001-2009 and as Founder and Artistic Director of his hometown Houston’s OrchestraX from 1997-2003.

Among his many other relationships, invitations and recordings with orchestras include Berlin’s Radio Symphony Ochestra, NDR Symphony Hamburg (ElbePhilharmonie), Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchester, Filarmonica della Scala,, Teatro La Fenice Orchestra in Venice, Orchestre de Paris, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, Camerata Salzburg and the Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg, among others. In the USA, Mr. Axelrod has conducted the Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra among others. Maestro Axelrod debuted in 2018 to great acclaim with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and returned with the Philharmonia Orchestra UK in Teatro alla Scala for the MITO Festival 2022. Other important regular festival engagements include the Enescu, Salzburg, Lucerne, Montreux Jazz, and the Schleswig Holstein.

John Axelrod’s important opera activity includes Bernstein’s Candide at Théâtre du Châtelet, Teatro alla Scala and Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Eugene Onegin at Teatro San Carlo in Naples, and Kurt Weill’s Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny at the Rome Opera, and Martinu’s Mirandolina at Teatro la Fenice. For the Lucerne Festival, he conducted: Rigoletto, The Rake’s Progress, Don Giovanni, the Three Penny Opera, Falstaff and Idomeneo. Maestro Axelrod conducted Gianni Schicchi to open the 2020 Puccini Festival and returned in 2021 to conduct a new production of Turandot, directed by Daniele Abbado.

Mr. Axelrod has recorded core and contemporary repertoire for Sony Classical, Warner Classics, Ondine, Universal, Naïve and Nimbus, and released a cycle of Brahms Symphonies with the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, entitled Brahms Beloved on Telarc, produced by Grammy winner Michael Fine.

Actively committed to working with young professional musicians for over two decades, Mr. Axelrod has toured with the Schleswig Holstein Festival Orchestra to the Salzburg Festival, the Santander Orchestra and the Sinfonia Iuventus in Poland, the Orchestra Giovanile Italiana in Italy, the Accademia della Scala to Muscat, the NordDeutsche Junge Philharmonie in Germany and the Vienna Jeunesse Orchester in Austria.

Mr. Axelrod graduated in 1988 from Harvard University. Trained personally by Leonard Bernstein in 1982, he also studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory with Ilya Musin in 1996 and was mentored by Christoph Eschenbach from 1997 until 2000 when we made his professional debut as assistant conductor for Parisfal at the Bayreuth Festival.