8 of top 10 most performed composers are American or British

8 of top 10 most performed composers are American or British


norman lebrecht

January 08, 2020

The annual Bachtrack listings of who and what got played most often in 2019 reveals no startling new trends. But the list of most performed living composers is alarming.

It is hugely Anglo-US centric. Eight out of 10 of the most performed are American or British.

1 John Williams, 2 Arvo Pärt, 3 James MacMillan, 4 Philip Glass, 5 John Adams, 6 György Kurtág, 7 Eric Whitacre (pictured), 8 John Rutter, 9 Thomas Adès, 10 Steve Reich.

That’s a serious market distortion.


  • Martin54 says:

    Slightly odd to see Kurtag up there and not, say, Karl Jenkins or Morten Lauridsen – both beloved of amateur choirs the world over. Or Einaudi, for instance. Not sure how these figures are arrived at…

    • norman lebrecht says:

      You’re right. This reflects orchestral performances. Einaudi, popular on record, does not get much by way of live performance.

      • Martin54 says:

        Although he does in people’s living rooms. Hard to keep tabs on that sort of performance though.

      • Nik says:

        I don’t think this is right either. At the bottom of the last slide it says that the statistics are based on all performances that were listed on Bachtrack in 2019, which is not an exhaustive list, but there is no indication that it only includes orchestral performances.
        When you look at the “top concert composers”, no.9 is Chopin. I’m pretty sure he was not put there by orchestras.

      • norman lebrecht says:

        Sorry, not orchestral performances. Apparently, performances in major concert venues that were reviewed on Bachtrack.

        • The View from America says:

          Not merely reviewed, but also listed on the database. There’s tens of thousands that go into developing these stats (around 35,000 events in 2019, to be more precise). But since the major focus of Bachtrack reviews is orchestral concerts, ballet and opera, one would presume that choral concerts and instrumental recitals are less likely to have been uploaded to the database.

          • Nik says:

            Then how do you explain the prominence of Chopin in the list? His piano concertos are not performed enough to propel him to ninth place overall. There must be a fair few solo piano recitals included.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    Less than half of the composers listed here are genuinely good.

    • Herr Doktor says:

      I agree with you. On that list I see three, and possibly four, composers who are genuinely good. And to not kill the suspense, one of them is named Arvo Part.

    • John Borstlap says:

      True. The reason for the absence of European continental living composers is the preponderance of the last vestiges of establishment modernism, which is merely allowed an occasional hearing by way of excuse and as an attempt to appear open-minded. It is a last cramped reaction to WW II. The real discussions about new music have taken place in the Anglosaxon sphere, already begun by George Rochberg in the sixties. That is why the appearance of a mind like W.A. Schultz in Germany is such an extraordinary phenomenon:


  • Esther Cavett says:

    An awful lot of minimalism !

  • Brian says:

    It’s hard to think of many Europeans who I’d add to this list. Maybe Andriessen or Lindberg? Or Hans Zimmer? And as others have noted, Bachtrack’s data is not very scientific in how it’s gathered.

  • We privatize your value says:

    Penderecki is still alive, but one could think he had died. What a fall!

  • J Leifs says:

    As with most statistics about classical music, the underlying data set is very skewed – Bachtrack is excellent for listings in the UK, USA and major centres in several European countries but very patchy elsewhere. Amateur and youth music-making is barely represented at all.

    To be fair, they never pretend to be anything they aren’t, and these stats is only meant as a bit of harmless fun. The problem is that – in the absence of any really serious statistical work in classical music – these will be translated into headlines and used to provoke public discussions. And a couple of years down the line we’ll see them being cited as credible source material in papers by US campus musicologists out to grind the next fashionable axe against the Dead White European art form they fear and dislike so much.

    • V.Lind says:

      Such is the standard of scholarship today. And such scholars are already on faculties, marking such papers generously (and of course at risk of their careers for giving low marks for sloppy work, given that the students, who in all too many cases do no work, are “customers” who have paid up).

  • Jean says:

    Where is Kaija Saariaho?

    • Brian says:

      Or Jennifer Higdon, speaking of women? Her “Blue Cathedral” for many years was the most widely performed piece in the orchestral rep. It still turns up quite a bit, and she has a slew of concertos that have made the rounds.

  • Simon says:

    That bar chart on the share of Mozart, Verdi and Puccini of total operatic output is just comically distorted: the 2019 bar appears as a fraction of the 2018 and 2017 ones, even though it is only a few percentage points lower. If they present their data this incompetetently, I am inclined to agree with J Leif that their statistics are likely not up to standards either.

  • Sally says:

    I was puzzled by some of the writer’s verbiage. How is it a “distortion” or “alarming“ to report that the top 10 most played living composers are from the US or the UK? It’s a fact. Not an alarm, not a distortion.Those sound like Social justice words looking for an outrage.