Germany has radio orchestras. Questions are being asked

Germany has radio orchestras. Questions are being asked


norman lebrecht

January 07, 2020

The German magazine Der Opernfreund has compiled a list of tax-funded radio orchestras, supposedly 30 (though some think only 15). The apparent aim of his memo is to generate debate on the function and purpose of broadcast orchestras in a post-radio, internet-dominated environment.

The function is fairly obvious. Germany has 80 music conservatories. It needs a glut of orchestras to absorb the flood of graduates.

Here’s the Opernfreund radio list:

NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester

NDR Radiophilharmonie

NDR Bigband

MDR Sinfonieorchester



Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken

Radio-Sinfonieorchesters Stuttgart

SWR Big Band

WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln

WDR Rundfunkorchester Köln

WDR Big Band Köln

Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks

Münchner Rundfunkorchester

Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin

Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin

Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg

RIAS Jugendorchester

RIAS Big Band Berlin

Rundfunk-Tanzorchester Ehrenfeld

RIAS Tanzorchester

Sinfonieorchester des Süddeutschen Rundfunks

SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg

SWR Rundfunkorchester Kaiserslautern

Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern

Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Leipzig

Radio-Philharmonie Leipzig

Rundfunk-Tanzorchester Leipzig

Rundfunk-Blasorchester Sächsische Bläserphilharmoni

Großes Rundfunkorchester Berlin

Berliner Rundfunktanzstreichorchester

Rundfunkorchester des Hessischen Rundfunks



  • John Borstlap says:

    Concerts and recordings are also broadcast via internet. So, it’s not only for people who exclusively listen to a radio set.

    • Karl says:

      Just rename them internet orchestras. Bavarian Internet Symphony Orchestra. Has a ring to it, yes?

    • Tamino says:

      Radio means just beam. “Strahl”.
      WLAN is using pretty much the same physical principles of electromagnetic wave RADIatiOn.
      So no reason to change anything.

  • V.Lind says:

    *Germany has 80 music conservatories. It needs a glut of orchestras to absorb the flood of graduates.*

    That’s a fairly circuitous argument. It begs the question: does Germany need 80 music conservatories?

    As far as I am concerned, I’m happy if Germany can support 80 music conservatories and 30 radio orchestras. I do not want to live in a “post-radio, internet-dominated environment” and encourage anything that varies that screen-ridden, vastly reduced, existence. Don’t any of these orchestras generate any income by performances and tours? I can see that they are endangered if all are entirely tax-supported and not getting listened to on their principal employers’ forums.

    This bears watching, because Germany probably supports classical music better than any other place in the western world. I’m concerned at your use of the word “glut,” which has negative connotations — I would have thought a blog that has raised concerns, not to say outrage, at every threat to radio orchestras and every merger of orchestras in all the years I have been reading it would be arguing for the survival of these radio orchestras.

    • Robert Holmén says:

      “*Germany has 80 music conservatories. It needs a glut of orchestras to absorb the flood of graduates.*

      That’s a fairly circuitous argument.”

      But that is how economies work in countries that see a value in people being employed.

      You start an auto industry to create demand for the steel industry… which adds steelworkers… who need cars…

    • Nick says:

      V. Lind: You are absolutely right!!

  • Wesley says:

    I did wonder why almost every new release of orchestral music from German label cpo seems to feature a different German radio orchestra.

  • Brian says:

    Looks like the names – and errors – were copied from the German Wikipedia entry for “Rundfunkorchester”.

    The WDR Rundfunkorchester was renamed WDR Funkhausorchester in 2014.

  • Carlos Solare says:

    I don’t have the time or inclination to go and check every single one, but this list includes quite a few orchestras that were closed down or privatized 20 and more years ago.

  • Robin Smith says:

    As a matter of interest, what are audience levels like in Germany ? Are performances well attended for the less well known Orchestras (radio or otherwise) ? I presume there will be an Arts Council type organisation attempting a coherent strategy.

    • Tamino says:

      No arts council.
      Germany is a federal state and the history of the cultural scene is very much based on a pre singular nation state situation, with dozens of small kingdoms and free cities, all aspiring and competing to have their own opera houses and concert halls and symphony orchestras.
      The radio orchestra landscape reflects that, in that every state within the nation has enjoys cultural autonomy and self governance.

  • Bernard says:

    The list is completely obsolete.

    Today Germany has 12 radio orchestras and 4 radio big bands (the rest: closed, merged, renamed, other sponsorship):

    1. NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester (Hamburg)
    2. NDR Radiophilharmonie (Hannover)
    3. NDR Bigband
    4. MDR Sinfonieorchester (Leipzig)
    5. hr-Sinfonieorchester (Frankfurt)
    6. hr-Bigband
    7. Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern (SWR)
    8. SWR Symphonieorchester (Stuttgart)
    9. SWR Big Band
    10. WDR Sinfonieorchester (Köln)
    11. WDR Rundfunkorchester (Köln)
    12. WDR Big Band
    13. Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks (München)
    14. Münchner Rundfunkorchester (BR)
    15. Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
    16. Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin

    See also here:

  • Bill says:

    Better they should do what we do in the US, and spend all that money on the Military and tax cuts for Billionaires.

    Bombs, not Brahms.

    • Cubs Fan says:

      Who do you think provides major support for our orchestras, opera companies, art museums, public broadcasting? Those billionaires you’re so jealous of. And I would like to think that anyone living in free Europe would have a smidgen of gratitude for the US having a military that saved their asses in two world wars. Ingrates.

      • Peter B says:

        Dear Cubs Fan, you are indeed a sad society that has no money for culture, so billionaires have indeed become an important support for the arts. Which explains why so much of American culture is so terribly middle of the road now, why so many classical orchestras perform more pops than real classical music, why cultural institutions enter into a crisis each time a sponsor decides it’s time for a new prestige toy, etc.

        As to Europe being grateful for what the US military did 75 years ago: how long do we have to stay grateful, would you say? Would a century do? Or is eternal vassallage the minimum? May I remind you that soldiers from a number of European countries are fighting America’s endless war as we speak?

        Know what? Stick to the Cubs.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          Nasty stuff, which surprises me none.

        • Nick says:

          Peter, we ARE a sad society, true, but not because we helped you in WWII. No. We have enough money for culture, but our young people are indoctrinated against culture. We are sad because our internal enemies are stronger than external and because we refuse to pay European higher taxes for sponsoring The arts, and because our internal enemies occupy 79% of all professorships in our schools and universities and indoctrinate our young people in “social justice” instead of teaching them cultural values, and we still spend billions to protect you, in Europe, (NATO) in spite of the fact that Western Europe already signed its death sentence, giving up on its own cultural heritage!!
          Thank god at least bright people of the UK are getting out of the camp and will execute the will of UK people independently from Brussels bureaucrats.
          That IS the reality as we see it.

          The State of CA GDP is bigger than the whole of UK, bigger than that of whole France, whole Italy, not to mention other European countries, so money is not the question. Internal enemy IS the reason we are a sad society.

      • V.Lind says:

        We’re not feeling particularly grateful this morning as the Twit-in-Chief has assassinated without consulting his allies, has threatened cultural sites and generally done all he can to divert attention from his floundering presidency and upcoming, albeit likely ill-fated, impeachment trial. The moronic whack job has done more to threaten peace on earth than your recent collection of nutters, including Reagan and Bush the Younger.

        You got gratitude for your late, barely noticeable, entry to WWI and your somewhat earlier contribution in WWII, after Britain had fought alone for almost three years, in Blair’s misguided support of the dimmest bulb — till now — to occupy the Oval Office in his utterly misguided, Cheney-driven adventurism in Iraq — which is why we are in today’s pickle.

        But your Orange Monster would have found something, because, like it or not, win or lose, he is about to face trial in the Senate, and his dubious tarnished star seems not to be polling quite as steadily a she would hope.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          Trump Derangement Syndrome; it started in November, 2016, and has gone on every day since. The “Senate Trial” is all about preventing a conservative replacement in the SC as RBG is on her last legs. Not transparent, or anything.

          • V.Lind says:

            Oh, rubbish. And given the disgusting manner by which the US gets SC judges, why should they all be right-wing deniers of everything demonstrably true?

            There is nothing deranged about anything except the actions of this uneducated, narcissistic, sexist, racist, reckless and ignorant cochon that less than half of you railroaded into the White House.

            Except maybe the one-issue Religious Wrong wanting to stack a court to overturn Roe v. Wade. I am personally hostile to abortion, and find it revolting when people use it as a birth-control method, but people do get pregnant against their intentions. I would rather they were treated safely in clean hospital or clinic conditions than reverting to the backstreets of yore. My personal views are not the arbiters of public policy.

            If the infantilist American right would grow up and accept that young people are going to have sex, they would perhaps begin to educate them properly in safe practices, which might result in less disease and fewer unwanted pregnancies.

            But the urge to deny anything that does not suit their narrow views means yet another crisis because Americans cannot face facts. Just as they pathetically cling to an outdated Second Amendment, that spoke about militias, and use it as an excuse to cavort around with guns — while still unable to grasp that the existence of these guns causes the massive gun death toll on their country while countries that have sensible policies see far less of this tragedy.

            Why are all your reactions so simplistic and knee-jerk? Why is there never a vestige of thought, or realism, in them?

          • jm960 says:

            Thank you, gives me hope that some reasoning human beings exist.

        • Alexander Tarak says:

          You can add Pussy Grabber in Chief and Agent Orange to your list.

      • Nils Angmar says:

        Right….gratitude for benefiting from the US pursuing its own self-interests, or do you actually believe that your country’s actions in the Second World War were out of a heartfelt desire to save the people of Europe?
        In any case, the US has managed to pull off enough over the last 75 years, to cash in on that gratitude and erase it nine times over.

        • Bone says:

          Hope y’all enjoy your migrant crisis! And your govt sponsored culture!

          • Tamino says:

            Our culture and arts scene is not government sponsored. It’s sponsored by all of us. Government is only administrating it.
            You people instead sponsor the out-of-control military, unlawful targeted assassination and such. Choices choices.

          • Nils Angmar says:

            Thank you Bone. Y‘all enjoy your own problems. And your lack of culture, government sponsored or otherwise.

          • George Porter says:

            The migrant crisis resulting from stupid US foreign policy?

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Cubs writes: “Anyone living in free Europe would have a smidgen of gratitude for the US having a military that saved their asses in two world wars”

        A very US narrative. The truth is that WWI was pretty much already won before the US turned up (their troops didn’t affect the outcome, just helped it finish a bit more quickly). And WWII was largely won by the USSR, who did most of the fighting.

        Sure, the defence guarantee during the cold war undoubtedly helped Europe. But the US did it for pretty selfish reasons. There is no reason for anyone in Europe around today to be grateful about it.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      And getting your people back to work. You forgot that.

  • Andreas B. says:

    Oh dear, where to start?

    I don’t know why Peter Bilsing, whose online mag I enjoy reading, would come up with such an outrageously inaccurate muddle.

    Some examples:

    RIAS Tanzorchester has first been renamed RIAS Bigband – and ceased to exist almost 15 years ago, afaik.

    Sadly, the RIAS Jugendorchester (a youth orchestra! – no graduates absorbed …) was also abolished in 2012.

    In Saarbrücken/Kaiserslautern, after a merger of the two orchestras in 2007, there is just one radio orchestra, not as the list suggests three.

    Similarly, Baden-Baden/Freiburg and Stuttgart have just one orchestra between them.

    Also, the three Leipzig orchestras mentioned here are in fact just one: the MDR Sinfonieorchester.

    The other Berlin entries are just as confused.

    Finally, the Rundfunk Tanzorchester Ehrenfeld was a freelance studio band for a weekly television show which existed for 6 years.

    At present, there are 15 orchestras / big bands financed by 9 separate public broadcasters.
    (Of course, there are also several excellent radio choirs – why aren’t they mentioned?)

    So, here’s a link to an accurate and up-to-date list:

  • John Rook says:

    Good for them. Wish it were the same here.

  • Gustavo says:

    This post-WWII cultural phenomenon deserves recognition as World Heritage!

    Rather than asking the functionality question.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Classical music has no function on the material, economic level. Its function is much more important: it offers a means to become better people.

      • Dave T says:

        You wouldn’t know that by reading some of the commentators in this thread.

      • Tamino says:

        Very true, JB, but it in addition also does boost economies. What’s not to like.
        Re becoming better people: If you feel no need to become better, you will not aspire to actively improve yourself. Somehow I have my doubts a majority of people around us have aspirations above the third or even only second level of Mazlov’s pyramid. I’m not sure why that is.

  • Cellofriend says:

    The list is very defective and gives a wrong impression. Ten of the orchestras don’t exist anymore, they’ve been shut down, fusioned with others or renamed. That leaves 22. Six of the remaining 22 are Bigbands, one is a dance orchestra. So we are talking about 15 classical orchestras instead of 32, one of them being a youth orchestra. Very different Picture.

  • Andreas B. says:

    And while we’re at it:
    80 conservatories?

    More like 24 (plus perhaps a couple of university music schools, e.g. Mainz):

    A few years ago there was an illuminating discussion – complete with Osborne’s per capita statistics – about this topic in the SD comment section:

  • Tamino says:

    That list is totally wrong. For instance all Leipzig has for the last 25 years is MDR. The other names are names from the distant past of the same orchestra. Same for other names on the list. Better investigation next time please.

    • Lausitzer says:

      Rundfunk-Tanzorchester Leipzig was something different: A big band, founded in 1947, known for its leaders Kurt Henkels and Walter Eichenberg, formally eliminated in 1992 after it disappeared from sight already in 1990/1991.

      Highlight is of course the mention of the studio band from the old Jan Böhmermann show, which used the name “Rundfunk-Tanzorchester” only as sarcastic reference. It would not hurt to do a little bit of research before churning out opinion pieces.

  • There are some major errors in the listings here. The big bands are not orchestras, and most of them have already been transformed into private status and only work for the radio on a contractual basis for each project they do.

    And there are orchestras listed that aren’t radio orchestras, or that no longer exist. The RIA Jungendorchester, for example, is a youth orchestra hosted by RIAS. It is not a radio orchestra.

    SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg was eliminated about three years ago (which was much discussed here on SD.)

    Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg is not a radio orchestra.

    I’m sure there are additional errors.

    And Germany has 24 state Musikhochschulen (conservatories.) There are some smaller municipal institutions, but they do not add significantly to the numbers. (Private universities and conservatories are in most respects forbidden by law in Germany, so private institutions are negligible for these numbers.)

    The 24 Musikhochschule are listed here:

    Germany, according to the numbers I last saw, had 133 full time orchestras and 83 full time opera houses. Almost half of the world’s opera performances take place in Germany.

    Corrections and updated info welcomed.

  • Djeedo says:

    This list is SO WRONG!!!
    Some orchestras are named twice (with old and new names), some are non-existant for decades and some of them have never ever been radio orchestras.
    This is one of the worst research,Mr Lebrecht!!!!

  • Djeedo says:

    THIS is the complete List of the radio orchestras and their real names:

    Norddeutscher Rundfunk:

    NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester (ehemals NDR-Sinfonieorchester, gegründet 1945)
    NDR Radiophilharmonie (gegründet 1950)
    NDR Bigband (gegründet 1945)

    Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk:

    MDR Sinfonieorchester (gegründet 1915/23)
    Hessischer Rundfunk:

    hr-Sinfonieorchester (gegründet 1924)
    hr-Bigband (gegründet 1946)

    Saarländischer Rundfunk/Südwestrundfunk:

    Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern (gegründet 2007; Fusion)


    SWR Symphonieorchester (entstanden durch Fusion des SWR Sinfonieorchesters Baden Baden und Freiburg, gegründet 1946 beim SWF und des Radio-Sinfonieorchesters Stuttgart, gegründet 1945 bei Radio Stuttgart)
    SWR Big Band (gegründet 1952 beim Südfunk)

    Westdeutscher Rundfunk:

    WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln (gegründet 1947)
    WDR Rundfunkorchester Köln (gegründet 1947)
    WDR Big Band Köln (gegründet 1946)

    Bayerischer Rundfunk:

    Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks (gegründet 1949)
    Münchner Rundfunkorchester (gegründet 1952)

    Orchester in Trägerschaft der Rundfunk Orchester und Chöre GmbH Berlin

    Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (gegründet 1946)
    Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin (gegründet 1925)

  • Robert Holmén says:

    I’d be curious to know what the repertoires and performance seasons are like for the “tanzorchester” und “filmorchester” und “Big Band” among those.

  • George says:

    An opera magazine says there might be too many Radio Orchestras???
    I would have thought the more orchestras the better!

    That’s exactly the kind of support Germany needs to keep classical music going on 🙁 .

  • Fliszt says:

    Germany has only 15 radio orchestras? Well, that’s still 15 more than we have in the United States!

  • Alexander Radziewski says:

    That’s a list about the situation in 1990. Freiburg and Stuttgart have already merged. Same with Kaiserslautern and Saarbrücken. In Berlin there are only the Rundfunksinfonieorchester and the Deutsches Symphonieorchester anymore. Al’s others are closed for many years and there is no RIAS anymore. Even Frankfurt merged their orchestras.

    • Grabenassel says:

      ….and DSO and RSB aren’t Rundfunkorchester in the original sense since they don’t have 100% support from a Radio-Station – it’s 40% by Deutschlandradio and 5% by RBB……

  • Roland says:

    SWR Sinfonieorchester is the current name for Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart (discontinued), SWR Stmphonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg, Sinfonieorchester des Sueddeitschen Rubdfunks (discontinued). Sane with HR Sinfonieorchester Frankfurt. If you name each orchestra a few times, then you make 30 Orchestras out of 10…

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    What a tragedy if Germany was to loose its radio orchestras, some of which are among the best orchestras of the country. Even if the economy declines, Germany should protect its cultural institutions, otherwise it will decline into mediocrity. What is Germany without culture?

  • Oresta Cybriwsky says:

    I agree. The radio orchestras of Germany are some of the finest in the country. They should stay. They also record music for archives. How ludicrous to think no one listens to radio in the age of the internet. We not only have car radios, but many companies have the radio going with a classical music station for its customers.

  • Wagner says:

    How can it be that the opernfreund publishes such a completely wrong list??