Busiest orchestras? Depends what you call busy….

Busiest orchestras? Depends what you call busy….


norman lebrecht

January 07, 2015

Bachtrack has published its annual account of who did what in 2014. As usual, women conductors and composers are somewhere way below the radar and the busiest orchestras are mostly American.

That, however, is a slight distortion.

The rankings are based on concerts listed on the Bachtrack site. That’s quite limiting.

Many European orchestras are busier by day than some US orchs are by night. They are recording games and film tracks, bustling abaout on social and educational missions and generally fulfilling more ‘services’ (the US term) than their transAtlantic counterparts.

So, while the rankings are of interest, they are not a valid reflection of the productivity of orchestras.

Let alone conductors.

world orchestra for peace


  • Halldor says:

    And of course, an orchestra that repeats the same programme 3 or 4 times is doing appreciably less rehearsing than one that plays 3 different programmes each week.

  • JAMA11 says:

    I also don’t think much of Bachtrack’s list but this post strikes me as badly in need of citations or at least a list of further reading. You can’t just assert that, contrary to a published report, that actually there are many busier orchestras (in Europe, of course) doing many more, different things, but you just can’t name them at the moment.

  • NYMike says:

    I’ve known LSO members to finish a Sunday afternoon Lincoln Center concert, rush to JFK to catch an overnight flight back to Heathrow and play an all-day film session on Monday. This comes out of financial necessity for British orchestra players.

    Major US orchestra musicians have contracts providing them with a fair – not lavish – living and stipulating a normal week of 8 services. Some teach and some play occasional recording gigs (if available) during their free time. The difference here is that major US orchestral contracts guarantee 52 week salaries whereas only BBC and Royal Opera House orchestras (If I’m not mistaken) do.

    • Bruce Wishart says:

      The great majority of UK orchestras are on a 52 week salaries too:
      City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Halle, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Philharmonic, BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Ulster Orchestra, Welsh National Opera, Opera North, English National Opera, Scottish Opera, Royal Northern Sinfonia..
      Only the following London orchestras are paid per service: London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, Philharmonia Orchestra..

      • NYMike says:

        I hadn’t considered the non-London UK orchestras since the most recognized orchestras are the four per-service orchestras you mention.

  • Paul says:

    simply judging by number of hours playing per day (with minimal breaks) and number of performances (which easily outnumber what you can imagine), I seriously doubt anyone can come even close to what the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra endures. Just look at their website, or try to spend a week attending their rehearsals.

    • Max Grimm says:

      The ladies and gentlemen of the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra can manage given their massive size as Mr. Schaffer pointed out below. They boast a roster of more than 360 full-time musicians and between 30-40 talented young musicians who are members of the Mariinsky Youth Orchestra (an orchestra academy and training scheme of sorts) to man all of those performances.

  • Paul says:

    interesting too, that they list the Vienna State Opera as the busiest opera, but they left the Vienna Philharmonic off of the list of the 10 busiest orchestras. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe every member of the Vienna Philharmonic plays in the opera pit, but not everyone from the pit orchestra plays in the philharmonic, which would mean that the philharmonic players are even busier than the busiest opera on earth. (However, I know from personal experience that the Vienna hours are still not as tough as what the Mariinsky Theatre accomplishes.)

    • NYMike says:

      There is rotation in the Staatsoper’s pit – VPO members don’t play every opera performance plus their orchestra concerts. When the VPO plays Carnegie for a week, the Staatsoper still puts on performances in Vienna.

  • Michael Schaffer says:

    Next time you are on their website, you should look not just at the program but also the list of players – it’s huge. I can’t think of any other orchestra or opera house which employs quite that many musicians.

  • Michael Schaffer says:

    That was in response to Paul, about the Mariinsky.