An Inside Look at Five of America’s Best Orchestras

An Inside Look at Five of America’s Best Orchestras

In 2008, Gramophone (one of the world’s most respected classical music publications) took on a monumental responsibility: ranking the world’s best orchestras. With a panel composed of renowned musicians and music critics from a variety of different countries, Gramophone evaluated orchestras from around the world, as long as they met a few qualifications. Modern, romantic symphonies were included in the evaluation, while those that specialized in a particular genre of music (i.e., Baroque and Renaissance music) were intentionally overlooked. From the Chicago Symphony to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, here are some American symphonies that made the list.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Ranked at number five on the list, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is the highest ranked American orchestra on the list. Established in 1891, the CSO performs well over one hundred concerts each year at is downtown home, Symphony Center, and the Ravinia Festival on Chicago’s North Shore. Known as one of the United States’ “Big 5” orchestras, the highly regarded brass section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra boosted them to the top of the list of American contenders. Whether you’re a brass musician or simply want to take in a great show, keep an eye out for tour performances throughout the United States. But act quick- CSO tour performances tend to sell out quickly!

Cleveland Orchestra

Led by Franz Welser-Möst, the Cleveland Orchestra has an extensive travel and touring schedule. In their concerts at home, in residencies from Miami to Vienna, and on tour around the world, The Cleveland Orchestra sets the standard of artistic excellence, concert programming, and community engagement. Regarded as one of the most acclaimed performing ensembles in the world, it only makes sense that they’re the second American orchestra on the list. With a long and proud history of giving back to the community, The Cleveland Orchestra makes it a point to share the joy of music with people throughout Northeast Ohio via education and community programs that date back to its founding in 1918.

Los Angeles Philharmonic

Founded in 1919, the forward-thinking mentality of the LA Phil gives this orchestra a unique advantage over the other orchestras on this list. Each year, more than 250 concerts are either performed or presented at the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s two iconic venues: the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl, both of which are praised for their history and architecture. The LA Phil’s involvement with the city of Los Angeles expands beyond the walls of its concert halls, with performances in local schools, churches, and neighborhoods. In fact, one of their education initiatives, Youth Orchestra LA (YOLA), has provided free instruments and music training to over 700 local students.

Boston Symphony Orchestra

The third “Big 5” member on this list, the Boston Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1881 by Henry Lee Higginson, who envisioned a great and permanent orchestra in his hometown. It was the first orchestra to perform live on the radio (NBC, 1926), and presents more than 250 concerts annually. Today, the BSO reaches millions of listeners, not only through their live performances, but via the internet, radio, television, and educational programs. In fact, the BSO proudly boasts that their website is one of the most-visited orchestral websites in the world, with 7 million visitors annually.

New York Philharmonic

Established in 1842, the New York Philharmonic is the oldest orchestra in the United States, and one of the oldest in the world. Each season, the New York Philharmonic connects with over 50 million music lovers around the world through worldwide tours, residencies, digital recordings, and live broadcasts. As a champion of new music at the time, the New York Phil has commissioned and/or premiered works by leading composers from every era since its founding, including Dvorak, Gershwin, and Brahms. Whether you’re a resident of New York or simply planning a trip, taking in a performance at the New York Phil is a must.


If you’re attending your first symphony performance, check out the NY Phil’s FAQ, or an exclusive guide from Music & Arts.


Image via yuan2003, CC

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