Big Five (orchestra)

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The five most important symphony orchestras in the USA ( New York Philharmonic , Boston Symphony Orchestra , Chicago Symphony Orchestra , Philadelphia Orchestra and Cleveland Orchestra ) have been called the Big Five since the 1950s . To what extent such a designation is still valid is controversial.

Situation in the USA


Location of the "Big Five" orchestras: New York, Boston and Philadelphia (blue, formerly "Big Three") as well as Chicago and Cleveland (red)

The "Big Five" means (sorted by the date of foundation):

Originally, the criticism spoke of three orchestras, the "Big Three" on the east coast of the United States : New York Philharmonic Orchestra / New York, Boston Symphony Orchestra / Massachusetts and Philadelphia Orchestra / Pennsylvania.

In the 1950s this was expanded to include the Chicago Symphony Orchestra / Illinois (under Fritz Reiner ) and the Cleveland Orchestra / Ohio (under George Szell ), both from the Midwest , to the now known "Big Five" due to extraordinary conducting achievements. The "Big Five" are some of the oldest orchestras in the USA. Only the orchestra in Cleveland was founded after the turn of the century. The term "Big Five" was initially coined by journalists and orchestra officials and established itself in the USA until the 1960s.

On the one hand, the orchestras stand for artistic quality, regular national and international tours and recordings with world-famous conductors. On the other hand, they have a large annual budget and foundations.

Even if the budget and artistic quality of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra , the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra increased over time, the terminology initially remained constant. The managing directors of the leading orchestras on the west coast (Los Angeles and San Francisco) tried unsuccessfully to expand the exclusive club into a "Big Six" or "Big Seven".


Since individual orchestras such as Detroit, San Francisco and Los Angeles have been paying their musicians significantly more and attracting talent, one can only speak of a historical term after Michael Mauskapf. Instead, George Seltze recognizes a large number of first-class ensembles.

For Phil G. Goulding , the reputation of an orchestra is not enough to judge its quality. Immediately behind the big five US orchestras would be the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (1914), the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra (1919), the Minnesota Orchestra (1903), the National Symphony Orchestra (1931), the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (1927), the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra (1880) and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (1909), and the Canadian orchestras Orchester symphonique de Montréal (1934) and Toronto Symphony Orchestra (1918). Other relevant orchestras include the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (1933), the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (1916), the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (1895), the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (1900), the Houston Symphony Orchestra (1913), the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (1930) and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (1959).

James R. Oestreich ( The New York Times ) found that "Big Five" is now only used as a self-designation by the inner circle . Although the name contributed to the international reputation of American orchestras in the beginning, there has been a fundamental change in the last few decades. In particular, it is problematic to establish reliable criteria. The “Big Five” tried to rely on quantitative indicators such as budget, discography, tours, radio presence and the number of musicians. The orchestra in Cleveland, which had by far the smallest budget, was nevertheless able to establish itself under George Szell in a kind of “Big Four Plus” circle. On the other hand, the orchestra in Philadelphia was insolvent in 2011 ( Chapter 11 ). According to the League of American Orchestras , the orchestra in Los Angeles (not the "Big Five") has the largest budget, ahead of Boston, Chicago, San Francisco (also not the "Big Five"), New York and Philadelphia, and most likely ahead Cleveland, which gave no information.

Fred Kirshnit ( The New York Sun ) proposed a reassessment: He counted the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra , the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra as new orchestras in the "Big Five". The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra are also represented. The orchestras of Philadelphia, Cleveland and New York were no longer in the top group for a variety of reasons.

Gramophone Ranking

Seven American orchestras were represented in a 2008 critic ranking by the music magazine Gramophone among the top 20 orchestras in the world, namely the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (5th), the Cleveland Orchestra (7th), the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra (8th), the Boston Symphony Orchestra (11th), the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (12th), the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (13th) and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra New York (18th).


2015/16 season
orchestra Total expenses
(US $ )
Los Angeles Philharmonic 130.412.242
Boston Symphony Orchestra 99.336.161
Chicago Symphony Orchestra 79.902.368
New York Philharmonic 76.731.386
San Francisco Symphony 75,611,648
Cleveland Orchestra 54.312.581
Philadelphia Orchestra 50,593,583
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra 37.955.170
Dallas Symphony Orchestra 37.473.130
Detroit Symphony Orchestra 33,684,771

Concert halls

Almost all “Big Five” orchestras have acoustically high-quality, mostly older concert halls : in particular the Symphony Hall (Boston), but also Severance Hall (Cleveland) as well as the Symphony Center (Chicago) and the David Geffen Hall (New York). With the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center (Dallas), an outstanding new concert building for a non-“Big Five” orchestra was added in 1989.


A study published in 2010 shows that all the “Big Five” orchestras in a study period up to 1959 were innovative in that they included new composers in their programs compared to other American orchestras : Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1st), Philadelphia Orchestra (2nd), Boston Symphony Orchestra (3rd), New York Symphony Orchestra (7th) and Cleveland Orchestra (11th). Another question may be whether the pieces were performed again.

Conductor profiles

With the exception of the New Yorkers, the founding conductors of the “Big Five” were all Europeans ( George Henschel , Theodore Thomas , Fritz Scheel and Nikolai Sokoloff ). The German presence in particular was outstanding, which also had an impact on the repertoire. The large orchestras were also founded in target regions for German-Americans such as Chicago and Philadelphia. The “Big Five” conductors of European origin also led the way during Leonard Bernstein's success . In contrast, other orchestras (San Francisco and others) have been conducted by Americans since the beginning.

Proportion of women

The female share of orchestral musicians is inversely proportional to the budget, i.e. H. the larger the budget, the smaller the proportion of women. In the 1996/97 season, the proportion of women in the “Big Five” was 28 percent. For orchestras with budgets in excess of US $ 3.75 million, 34.7 percent were women orchestra musicians; Orchestras with a budget of $ 1.1 to $ 3.75 million had 46.7 percent women.

To date there have been no female chief conductors in the orchestras of the "Big Five".

Other uses

In the orchestral leader Herbert Haffner , the major orchestras based in London are summarized under the term “Big Five”: London Symphony Orchestra , BBC Symphony , London Philharmonic , Philharmonia and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra .

Furthermore, refers Haffner to by Joseph Stalin recognized as the "Big Five" orchestras in the Soviet Union : Bolshoi -Orchester, State Academic Symphony Orchestra , the Great Symphony Orchestra of Soviet Radio (all Moscow), Kirov -Orchester (Leningrad) and the Leningrad Philharmonic .

See also

Individual evidence

  1. Michael Baumgartner: When the market forces play . In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung , August 6, 2011.
  2. ^ Pierre-Antoine Kremp: Innovation and Selection: Symphony Orchestras and the Construction of the Musical Canon in the United States (1879-1959) . In: Social Forces 88 (2010) 3, pp. 1051-1082, here: p. 1056.
  3. ^ A b Pierre-Antoine Kremp: Innovation and Selection: Symphony Orchestras and the Construction of the Musical Canon in the United States (1879-1959) . In: Social Forces 88 (2010) 3, pp. 1051-1082, here: p. 1078.
  4. a b c James R. Oestreich: The Big Five No Longer Adds Up . In: The New York Times , June 16, 2013, p. AR1.
  5. ^ Eileen Weisenbach Keller: Nonprofit Strategy and Change . In: W. Glenn Rowe (Ed.): Introduction to nonprofit management: text and cases . SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks, et al. a. 2013, ISBN 978-1-4129-9923-6 , pp. 161-200, here: p. 172.
  6. Michael Mauskapf: The American Orchestra as patron and presenter, 1945-Present: A Selective discography . In: Notes 66 (2009) 2, pp. 381–393, here: p. 381.
  7. George Seltze: Larger Audiences? University Music Faculties Can Help . In: American Music Teacher 54 (2005) 4, p. 100.
  8. ^ Phil G. Goulding: Classical Music: The 50 Greatest Composers and Their 1,000 Greatest Works . Fawcett Books, New York 1992, ISBN 0-449-91042-3 , p. 343.
  9. Fred Kirshnit: New York Drops Off the List Of 'Big Five' Orchestras . In: The New York Sun , December 5, 2006.
  10. ^ The world's greatest orchestras ., accessed September 15, 2018.
  11. 2018 Orchestra Compensation Reports: Music Directors ,, accessed September 16, 2018.
  12. See Leo Beranek : Concert halls and opera houses: music, acoustics, and architecture . 2nd edition, Springer, New York a. a. 2002, ISBN 0-387-95524-0 , p. 498; ders .: Concert hall acoustics: Recent findings . In: The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 139 (2016) 4, pp. 1548–1556, doi : 10.1121 / 1.4944787 .
  13. ^ Pierre-Antoine Kremp: Innovation and Selection: Symphony Orchestras and the Construction of the Musical Canon in the United States (1879-1959) . In: Social Forces 88 (2010) 3, pp. 1051-1082, here: p. 1054.
  14. a b George Gelles: Where Are America's Maestros? . In: The New York Times , September 15, 2018, p. A19.
  15. ^ Thomas Schmidt-Beste: The Germanization of American Musical Life in the 19th Century . In: Josef Raab, Jan Wirrer (Ed.): The German presence in the USA = The German presence in the USA Lit, Berlin u. a. 2008, ISBN 978-3-8258-0039-0 , pp. 513-538, here: pp. 526 f.
  16. ^ J. Michele Edwards (with Leslie Lassetter): North America since 1920 . In: Karin Pendle (Ed.): Women & Music: A History . 2nd Edition, Indiana University Press, Bloomington et al. a. 2001, ISBN 0-253-33819-0 , pp. 314-385, here: p. 360.
  17. J. Michele Edwards: Women on the podium . In: José Antonio Bowen (Ed.): The Cambridge companion to conducting . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2003, ISBN 978-0-521-82108-7 , pp. 220-236, here: p. 227.
  18. ^ Herbert Haffner: Orchester der Welt. The international orchestra leader . Parthas-Verlag, Berlin 1997, ISBN 3-932529-03-0 , p. 202.
  19. ^ Herbert Haffner: Orchester der Welt. The international orchestra leader . Parthas-Verlag, Berlin 1997, ISBN 3-932529-03-0 , p. 265.