The world’s best symphony orchestras?

Gramophone magazine polled music critics and here is the top ten list they came up with:

1 Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

2 Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

3 Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

4 London Symphony Orchestra

5 Chicago Symphony Orchestra

6 Bavarian Radio Symphony

7 Cleveland Orchestra

8 Los Angeles Philharmonic

9 Budapest Festival Orchestra

10 Dresden Staatskapelle

You’ll find 10-20 here, along with some discussion.  The news, if that is what you would call it, is that Philadelphia does not make the list at all.  Here is another discussion of the results.


Where the heck is New York Phil?!

I get to see Dudamel tomorrow with the Israeli Phil. Anyone know how the Israeli Phil might rank?

Does anyone have more detail on the details of poll?

Because if they simply asked everyone "What is your favorite Orchestra", and then ranked the answers, that wouldn't be very useful. If most score agreed that a certain Orchestra was the second best in the world, it would score horribly by that metric.

Instead, you'd want every candidate to rank their schools, and then rank by average rank.

My pal James D. Jacobs, the classical music DJ and cellist argues in fact a better list would be Gramophone's top 6 minus Vienna, for a nice top 5. "A lot of these aren't what they used to be," he notes.

Perspective is everything.

There is no such thing as an unbiased classical music critic. What was their musical background, what classical era most interests them, what instrument does their wife/daughter/son play....

As a trombonist with interest in heavy romantic era classical music I'd have a decidedly different list when compared with a flutist who cherishes Haydn and Handel.

Like it or not, different orchestras excel in different musical areas and forcing some aggregate ranking is as provoking as it is misleading. (akin to school rankings?)

Was Tel Aviv ever a Top 20 orchestra?

I've heard it argued that Israel's magnificent classical music tradition is in decline as the Ashkenazi birthrate can't keep up with that of other Israeli groups less interested in European art music.

I don't listen to any others live, but WOW! The Chicago Symphony is unbelievably outstanding. Night in and night out, it brings me near tears.

Bernard Haitink conducted Mahler's Second last week and the audience was roaring in appreciation.


I think 2) is right: 'better' is meaningless at that level. I put all the top five at about the same level. Although there are particular areas (e.g. brass, for Chicago) where some orchestras stand out, there isn't one orchestra that beats all the rest in all the relevant musical aspects. This also means that your comment 3) about the top 3 orchestras being state-funded isn't very significant. The best American orchestras are mainly privately funded, and the best American orchestras are up there with the best (state-funded) European orchestras, so I doubt that the source of funding has much discernible effect on the greatness of the orchestra.

Oops, I wrote The Hague. That must be Amsterdam.

Gramophone's list is interesting. By comparison, the editors of Encyclopaedia Brittanica came up with their list of the best 25 in 2007: Berlin Phil, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Leipzig Gewandhaus, London Phil, London Symphony, L.A. Phil, Montreal, New York Phil, NHK Tokyo, Suisse Romande, Paris, National de France, Oslo, Philadelphia, Philharmonia (London), Pittsburgh, Royal Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Royal Phil (London), St. Louis, St. Petersburg (not Leningrad!), San Francisco, and Vienna. They presented the list in alphabetical order, saying it was utterly stupid to try to rank them. So much depends on what and where they are playing. Also, they specified that the conductor was as important, if not more important, than the orchestra.

1-4 is dead on. Cleveland over Chicago. Surprised by LA at #8, not because they don't deserve it, but because I'm shocked that the critics are actually paying attention to LA's great programming that puts other orchestras to shame. I agree with Mike. It's all about the conductor. You can have great musicians. If they keep playing Beethoven all the time, I'd rather see a capable albeit less technically sound orchestra playing something more interesting.

Comments for this post are closed