Silvestri, born of Austro-Italian-Romanian stock, was brought up mostly by his mother, his father dying from alcoholism, and his stepfather dying when the boy was 16. He had learnt how to play the piano and organ before the age of six. He played the piano in public at 10 and was a skilled improviser. He studied at the Târgu Mureş Conservatoire, and later at the Bucharest Conservatoire. His teachers in Bucharest included Mihail Jora (composition) and Florica Musicescu (piano). Despite not having taken conducting classes, he was already appearing as conductor in his teens, making his debut in 1930 with the Bucharest Radio Symphony Orchestra in a concert which included The Rite of Spring and his own composition Prelude and Fugue (Toccata).
Silvestri's success in this 1930 National Radio Orchestra of Romania concert persuaded him to follow conducting as a career. He conducted at the Romanian National Opera from 1935 on, and, following the brief tenures of two caretakers, he also directed the Bucharest Philharmonic Orchestra for six years as successor to George Georgescu, in disgrace as a Nazi collaborator. Georgescu, ironically, assumed directorship of the Radio Orchestra; following Silvestri's emigration to the West, Georgescu would resume his place at the head of the Philharmonic, shortly thereafter renamed the George Enescu Philharmonic. From 1948 to 1956, Silvestri taught at the Bucharest Conservatoire (Conservatorul din Bucureşti), where he founded its Conducting Department. Among Silvestri's students were Sergiu Comissiona, Marius Constant, Anatol Vieru, Iosif Conta, Edgar Cosma. By the 1950s Silvestri was accepting guest engagements in the USSR, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. His career in Romania came to a climax in 1958 with the highly successful Romanian premiere of Oedipe in Bucharest.
After leaving his home country Silvestri made Paris his domicile in 1959, also travelling to Australia that year, and appearing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Philadelphia Orchestra in 1960-61, and making a number of recordings in Paris, London and Vienna for EMI.
Having made his UK début with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1957 at the Royal Albert Hall, Silvestri defected to Great Britain in 1961 and assumed the post of Principal Conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. He raised the standard and prestige of the orchestra to one of international standing. He was demanding and meticulous in rehearsal, his scores marked in different colours; however, his performances often differed from one concert to the next.
He became a British citizen in 1967 shortly before his growing reputation was cut short by increasing ill health, and he died of cancer at the age of 55. His last concert was in Exeter on 29 November 1968, and there is a memorial at St Peter's Church in Bournemouth.
At least three biographies are available on Silvestri, by Eugen Pricope, John Gritten and Ioana Raluca Voicu-Arnăuţoiu. King's College London holds a substantial documentary archive of his life and work.
In Romania and Eastern Europe, before moving to the West, Silvestri made around 20 LPs, often of repertoire he did not subsequently re-record.
Recordings for which he is particularly well known include Edward Elgar's Overture In the South (Alassio), and Tchaikovsky's 5th symphony. His recordings received a First Prize from the Académie Charles Cros (for Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No.9, "From the New World") and the Grand Prix du Disque (for George Enescu’s Dixtuor for Winds).
Silvestri conducted and recorded with many of the world's finest orchestras, such as the Berlin Philharmonic, Philharmonia, Concertgebouw, Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, Suisse Romande, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra,.
In addition to commercial recordings, the BBC Legends label has issued six CDs of radio performances from the 1960s with Silvestri conducting the Bournemouth Orchestra. In 2013, EMI re-issued most of his recordings with that company in a 15-disc set in which one reviewer noted the performances' “consistent character and quality”.
Silvestri also composed over 40 orchestral, chamber and vocal works. These include Prelude and Fugue (Toccata), Sonata quasi una fantasia, Op 19, No 2 (1940), Chants Nostalgiques, Op 27, No 1 (1944), String Quartet, Op 27, No 2 (1944), Sonata for solo harp, Three Pieces for Strings, Op 4, No 2 (1933), and Romanian Dances from Transylvania, Op 4, No 1 (1930).
- Morgan K. From Bucharest to Bournemouth. Classic Record Collector, Winter 2009, Vol 59, 16-22.
- Biographical sketch Archived 2009-05-13 at the Wayback Machine of George Georgescu published for Concursul George Georgescu 2008 International Contest for Performing Artists, Tulcea, Romania
- "Wholenote" (PDF). 14 (1). 2008: 50. Retrieved November 6, 2014. Cite journal requires
- Cerban, Madalina (November 24, 2013). "Biografia necunoscută a compozitorului şi dirijorului Constantin Silvestri, lansată la Gaudeamus" (in Romanian). mediafax.ro. Retrieved November 6, 2014.
- Tim Ashley (8 May 2009). "Tchaikovsky: Symphony No 3 'Polish'; Elgar: Enigma Variations: Reznicek: Donna Diana Overture; Bournemouth Symphony Orch/Silvestri". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-09-13.
- Jacobs, Arthur. London Opera Diary - Khovanshchina. Sadler's Wells. Opera, Vol.14 No.8, August 1963, p561-564.
- Rob Cowan (23 August 2002). "The compact collection (Constantin Silvestri: The collection)". The Independent. Retrieved 2009-09-13.
- Sanders A. Review of EMI Classics 'Constantin Silvestri – Complete EMI Recordings (7 23347-2). Classical Recordings Quarterly, Summer 2013, 73 : p71-73.
- Gritten, John. (1998). A Musician Before His Time. Constantin Silvestri - Conductor, Composer, Pianist with a Foreword by Yehudi Menuhin (Lord Menuhin of Stoke D'Abernon), 70 illustrations, 304 pp. ISBN 1-900496-12-7 (Kitzinger, London)
| Principal Conductor, Bucharest Philharmonic Orchestra
| Director, Bucharest Philharmonic Orchestra
| Principal Conductor, Romanian National Radio Symphony Orchestra
| Artistic Director, Romanian National Opera
|| Founder of the Conducting Department, Bucharest Conservatoire
| Principal Conductor, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra