Official: The new Big Five

Official: The new Big Five


norman lebrecht

June 24, 2016

America’s orchestras were originally ranked by budget, hence the term Big Five. But the money has shifted from East Coast to West. On current budget rankings, here are the new Big Five:


la phil barbican


1 Los Angeles Philharmonic                            budget $117,813,629

2 Boston Symphony                                                        $88,543,401

3 Chicago Symphony                                                      $80,482,607

4 San Francisco Symphony                                           $74,566,128

5 New York Philharmonic                                              $73,256,773


Of the historic Big Five, Cleveland comes in 6th with $51,303,220 and Philadephia 7th with $45,366,875.

dudamel la phil2


  • Olassus says:

    Los Angeles and Boston numbers are of course distorted by their summer festivals, the Hollywood Bowl and Tanglewood, respectively.

    Minus $30 million each?

  • Ilio says:

    Of these, aren’t NY and Chicago both in deficit spending with looming funding problems. Just because the LA Phil has a big budget doesn’t mean that it’s as quality an orchestra as SF which is doing well while spending less. With all the old money having moved west, it’s no wonder that both Cleveland & Philly have less money to work with. If the Cleveland O didn’t have it’s Miami residency, I wonder what its financial situation would be.

    • Leon says:

      SF should seriously consider finally moving on to a real music director.

    • M2N2K says:

      It is certainly true that SFS is a very good orchestra that is “doing well while spending less”. However, it is also true that, according to musically discerning and symphonically astute people who listen to both fairly regularly, between those two LAP has been slightly better overall for at least last 25 years or so.

  • MacroV says:

    Also have to factor in that the cost of living (especially housing) in LA and SF (not to mention NYC and Boston) are significantly higher than Philadelphia or Cleveland. So that’s likely to affect the organizations’ budgets.

    But if you want to rank “Big 5” what you really should look at is what orchestras people move to in order to take a job at the same or lower level.

  • la Verita says:

    Well, if Gordon Getty didn’t live in San Francisco….and play his music…

  • Bennie says:

    Before everybody got so excited, read this please?

    Thanks to Hollywood Bowl, where nightly pop/rock concerts are programmed 5-6 nights a week during the summer, LA Phil is guaranteed USD $50 millions annual income. That’s more than the total budget of Cleveland and Philly!

    LA/SF musicians make a lot of money because they have to pay a lot more money for housing.

    Boston’s big budget is obvious per its Boston Pops. A big time money maker to a point that, the main orchestra seats at Symphony Hall are ripped out and replaced with dinning table for the patrons during the Pops season. Imagine the storage fees for those seats (which are like national treasure …. people think they are one of the main factors of the glorious acoustics)

    Seriously, whoever think the original Big Five is no longer the Big Five is as smart as the people who think Chinese RMB should replace USD/treasury bonds as the world’s reserve currency.


    • Robert Holmén says:

      That Hollywood bowl income is pretty amazing given that the Bowl is not even really theirs but a county property.

      In many locales there would be some taxpayer outrage at that diversion of funds.

      I wonder if that will get re-thought when the lease is up in 18 years?

      • jaxon says:

        I don’t know all the ins and outs of the LA Phil’s arrangement at the Bowl, but as the Phil is taking all the risk on whatever they produce there, they also reap the rewards. I’m sure they pay some amount of money in rent. No funds are being “diverted” anywhere. The situation is much the same in other cities where the municipality owns the concert hall but doesn’t expect the orchestra to split proceeds from events. San Francisco the city owns Symphony Hall, not San Francisco the Symphony, and the Symphony pays rent and other such fees for every day they rehearse or present events there. It doesn’t mean the ticket proceeds are being “diverted” from taxpayers.

    • M2N2K says:

      The claim that in Hollywood Bowl “nightly pop/rock concerts are programmed 5-6 nights a week during the summer” is not only self-contradictory but just plain inaccurate (exaggerated that is), unless your definition of pop/rock includes so-called light or popular classical music and jazz. In the usual meaning of pop/rock, on average such programs appear not more than about 3 times a week during the Bowl’s summer season.

    • Paul Sullivan says:


      No storage charge for the Pops season seating change out. It’s all in house.

  • NYMike says:

    There’s “Big Five” by budget, and “Big Five” by quality where #6 and #7 top the list.

  • John Willan says:

    Housing is pretty expensive in London too. The LSO’s latest turnover seems to be $23.52M – a little short of even the NY Phil let alone the Dude’s band. Mind you I think I prefer value for money – Haitink for example.

  • jaxon says:

    …official? Says who? The original big five were ranked according to budget – by whom? What is the authority here? It’s perfectly fine to report on which orchestras in America have the biggest budgets, something that is publicly available to anyone at any time and thus not “news” per se. But to tart it up with the notion that this “officially” makes these the “big five” orchestras is bizarre and par for the course on this blog.

  • Randy Reade says:

    I always thought that the Big Five were Big because of their quality, not their budgets. I also remember that back in the early 70s or so, a “major symphony orchestra” was one that had a budget of $1 million or more.

    ABout 8 or 9 years ago, I sent an email to the spokeswoman of the American Symphony League to find out what constitutes a “major symphony orchestra” nowadays, and she gave a rather thoughtful reply that they are out of that business, and allow every orchestra to define itself, or let reviewers and critics have at it. But there is no industry standard.

    • MWnyc says:

      Back when Marin Alsop became music director of the Baltimore Symphony, there was a lot of media excitement over her being “the first woman music director of a major symphony orchestra” in the U.S.

      Since that formulation implied that the Buffalo Philharmonic (along with the smaller Kansas City Symphony and Virginia Symphony) was not a “major symphony orchestra”, there was some discussion of what made a U.S. symphony orchestra “major”.

      The dividing line that seemed to be settled on by the end of that discussion was a 52-weeks-a-year contract for the musicians. (I have a vague memory that the distinction came from the American Symphony Orchestra League, now the League of American Orchestras. If that was the case, obviously the LAO has backed away from it.)

  • Curious George says:

    How is the NY Phil considered ‘elite’ when people like Lisa Kim (who plays like garbage) sits in a titled chair??

    • M2N2K says:

      If this question is not rhetorical, then a reasonable response can be: maybe because even with titled musicians whose playing is not approved by curious george, the orchestra still manages to sound quite well most of the time.