Best Orchestras in the World : Top 16 

 May 16, 2022

By  Zen Chung

Playing in an orchestra is the epitome of musical talent and has been for centuries. From the great composers of old like Beethoven and Chopin to the modern age, great composer Richard Strauss, orchestras in the world keep maintaining their place in civilization. Today, you will experience compositions for film soundtracks by great composers like Hans Zimmer and played by modern orchestras.

If you are into classical music, you have come to the right place because we will talk about the best orchestras in the world that you can catch for unforgettable and the most beautiful evenings you can ever have.


Best Orchestras in the World

This is a tough list to compile because orchestras go to extremes to maintain excellence in the pieces they play. Therefore, we will cover orchestras from all over the world so that you can find an orchestra near you.

1) Berlin Philharmonic

Berlin Philharmonic, founded in 1882, has dominated the halls for that long because of the excellence you will get from the orchestra. The awards put to the orchestra's name are uncountable, and you can almost recognize their sound when you turn on the radio. The orchestra's history is rich as it manages to stay relevant through the years. The orchestra's founder will be proud to know that it has seen three centuries and is here to stay.

Orchestras in the world see a change in their chief conductors. However, the Berlin philharmonic has a culture beyond the orchestra, and any new member would know what is expected of them.

Berlin Phil has seen challenges, including their hall being destroyed by the British bombers during WWII and their next one catching fire. Yet, despite all the tragedy, the orchestra is here to stay.

2) Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

The Vienna Philharmonic is one of the oldest orchestras in the world, founded in 1842. While the orchestra has had its issues and a lot of criticism, it is the gift that keeps giving. The orchestra has gone through periods of thorough conservatism, such as who was allowed to play in the orchestra. The orchestra tours extensively, and some people may take issue with the reduced efficiency of players.

While the conservatism has reduced, one still needs a three-year experience to play in the Vienna state opera before making it on the waiting list to join the Vienna philharmonic. A weekday performance has a 6-year waiting list and a weekend performance has up to a 13-year waiting list. By the time one is performing in the orchestra, they are really good.

One other reason why the Vienna philharmonic orchestra sounds unique is that all the players' instruments are made in Vienna. As a result, the orchestra will hardly sound like any other in the world and is easily the best among the world's greatest orchestras.

3) London Symphony Orchestra

The London symphony orchestra founded in 1904, is one of the later orchestras compared the others. The LSO is known for its work ethic and great management. The players can play any time when called upon. However, great management is not the only thing the orchestra is known for, as they are probably the most unique orchestra in terms of versatility. The orchestra can play any classical music thrown at them and play it well.

If you like the personality that directors bring to the performance, the London symphony orchestra invites many guest directors. The orchestra is not very strict as players decide when they play, who plays and how much they are paid. If you want to join an orchestra, this is one to audition for.

4) Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

The Bavarian radio symphony orchestra, also known as the BRSO, is one of the orchestras considered almost flawless. It is hard to find any faults with this orchestra, and their execution is beyond world-class.

There is a reason for their perfection, or near perfection. Being a radio orchestra, the BRSO members are used to recorded orchestra settings. This forces them to play perfectly during recordings which translates to performances. As a result, you can expect magnificent performance from the BRSO.

The recording room makes the players in BRSO used to tense situations and microphones all over the place. For this reason, this orchestra will be what you call the perfect evening for every session you attend.

5) Chicago Symphony Orchestra

The Chicago symphony orchestra founded in 1891, has stood the test of time as one of the great orchestras observed by some of the most renowned music critics. The orchestra performs annually for different causes. However, their most known annual performances happen at the Ravinia Festival in Illinois.

The orchestra is one of the "big five" American orchestra choices and is respected in every opera house they set their instruments in.

The orchestra has come a long way but has maintained its standards for a long time. In the earlier years, the orchestra would train its players to the appropriate playing skill levels, which has since put them at the top. So while they may carry out auditions today, the standard was long set. As a result, the orchestra plays pretty much anything the music director demands and is an exciting orchestra to play in.

6) Boston Symphony Orchestra

The Boston symphony orchestra founded in 1881, is one of the most sophisticated orchestras in the US. Being the second oldest musical education institution in America, the orchestra played on and still plays on the world's greatest stages. But, of course, you can never mention the best orchestras in the world or America without including the BSO, which is considered one of the big five in America.

In 1885, there used to be a faction of the Boston symphony orchestra players who called themselves the Boston Pops Orchestra. The members would play rather popular classic pieces at the time and lighter music. This shows how the orchestra was, and still is, a dynamic one and a fun one to play in.

7) Budapest Festival Orchestra

The Budapest festival orchestra members must be a serious lot. The orchestra is less than 40 years old and has made it to the top at an astounding speed. You can imagine just how much work has to go in an orchestral performance of a new orchestra to match the ones that have been around for more than a hundred years. While their record is extraordinary, the Budapest festival orchestra has taken chamber music quality to the next level.

As we mentioned earlier, listening to any orchestra that records are like listening to perfection. Budapest festival orchestra is one such orchestra. Passion and commitment drive the orchestra that has to keep the standards set by other orchestras in the game. Luckily, the Budapest Festival orchestra does this well. The orchestra is one to check out in case you are auditioning.

8) Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

The Royal Concertgebouw orchestra founded in 1888, plays in the big leagues with the other old orchestras that have been around. The orchestra has a deep and profound approach to classical music, making their performance noble. The orchestra has an interpretation that fits perfectly into any piece before them. The orchestra players have a hunger for the notes before them, and you can count on getting nothing but passion every time you are in the halls with them.

If you are in the Netherlands and are looking for classical music orchestras, the Royal concert hall (Concertgebouw) is where you will find the magic you are looking for. With over 1000 recordings, the orchestra has set its place in stone in the classical music world, gaining the reputation it has and deserves.

9) Los Angeles Philharmonic

The Los Angeles philharmonic has been around since 1919, which is not long after orchestras like the London orchestra. The LA Phil performs at the Walt Disney concert hall and the Hollywood Bowl. So if you are looking for a contemporary music with a classical touch, the LA Phil is the orchestra you want to listen to.

The orchestra has seen a lot of development as they aim to redirect the general direction of modern orchestra music. The LA Phil music director Gustavo Dudamel has highlighted the importance of music and had his radio show called At Home With Gustavo. Music development and innovation have always been at the heart of this orchestra.

The orchestra tours in San Diego, Santa Barbra, California, Palm Springs and Costa Mesa. You can catch them and experience some class if you are around those regions.

10) Cleveland Orchestra

Cleveland orchestra founded in 1918, is agemates with its Los Angeles counterpart and sounds just as good. Cleveland Orchestra is one of the big five in America and has earned its place despite the stiff competition from other symphony orchestras. To know how good and competitive the orchestra is, there was a time when out of 100 members, only six were from Ohio. The rest of the members were from all over the world.

The orchestra is a non-profit and has the lowest operating budget compared to other orchestras in the United States. Therefore, if you are out for a good cause and are into classical music, the orchestra is one to audition for. In addition, you might want to be a permanent resident of Ohio because the orchestra requires full commitment to be that good.

11) New York Philharmonic Orchestra

New York Philharmonic, founded in 1842, is one of the leading orchestras ever to play in modern times. The orchestra has a rich history and is one of the oldest in the United States. On their first performance in 1842, 63 players performed for an audience of 600 at the Apollo rooms.

The orchestra has a rich player to orchestra relationship as it operated as a cooperative society in its first 25 years. This means that the players were allowed to manage themselves as they played for the orchestra.

Having taken part in 15000 concert performances, the orchestra is the one to beat. Apart from the record-breaking performances, they have 2000 recordings to their name. But, regardless of how fast you rise to the top, theirs is no mean feat.

12) San Francisco Symphony

The San Francisco Symphony has developed a theatrical sound that is hard to mistake. The orchestra has a polished sound that sounds like something from a classical composer's dream. The classical symphony was started in 2001 and has not been around that long. However, they have managed to set their niche and have focused on the orchestral song cycles as one of their strong sides.

The San Francisco Symphony is not to be mistaken for its age. Every music director has thought of playing with the orchestra because of the uniqueness they bring to the stage. The San Francisco Symphony, also known as the SFS, is on its way to becoming one of the formidable symphony orchestras to watch out for. For someone looking to audition, the earlier, the better.

13) Philadelphia Orchestra

The Philadelphia Orchestra is one of the orchestras that started at the turn of the century in 1900. The orchestra was set for a perfect century ahead, making it one of the orchestras to have on one's bucket list. Being one of America's big five orchestras, you can not mistake the orchestra for another once you hear their sound. Housed at the Kimmel Center, the orchestra brings class to the local and national communities in the US.

The orchestra plays over 130 concerts each year. You may want to sit back and think about what that schedule looks like. The players are always busy, but this does not affect their performance as they have practiced all their lives for these moments.

Being the first orchestra to make electrical recordings, you can not start comparing the innovativeness of the Philadelphia orchestra. But, even more impressive, they were the first orchestra in a television broadcast. Talk about setting standards.

14) Russian National Orchestra

The Russian national orchestra was founded in 1990 and is a relatively young orchestra compared to the ones we have mentioned. However, regardless of how young it may be, the orchestra has reached a point where it can have its annual festivals. The orchestra has rich potential because of its location, surrounded by great artists and composers. The Russians are some of the best when it comes to the arts.

With more than 60 recordings, the orchestra is well on its way to becoming one of the best orchestras in the world. But, of course, the orchestra's critically acclaimed recordings have played a part in making the orchestra polished, just like other recording orchestras.

15) Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra

The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra has some of the best orchestral performance sessions in the world. As one of the recording orchestras, you can expect nothing but the best performances in every hall they grace. The orchestra has a deep sense of heritage in everything they play and sits pretty on the list of the best orchestras around.

While the orchestra is relatively young, they have found its place in a world dominated by modern music. However, the orchestra has found its niche and is well on its way to being one of the greatest orchestras ever that every principal conductor will want to be a part of.

16) Royal Liverpool Philharmonic

The Royal Liverpool orchestra is one with a rich history. With over 180 years to read through, so much can be said about this orchestra. The orchestra has seen the best principal conductor options there ever were. In 2006, it had its youngest conductor, proving how dynamic the orchestra had become over time. While the orchestra had only the best to consider for stage presence, they have been open to pushing limits with everything to do with musical innovation in these modern times.

Some Notable Mentions

The list can be endless because the competition is so high. Musicians have known the worth of being professionals in everything they do, and it has paid off for most of them. The competition is ridiculously stiff, and anyone who has ever auditioned knows just how difficult it is to get into one of these orchestras. The waiting list grows longer. Here are more orchestras you can join with enough determination.

  • Alpine symphony
  • Aurora orchestra
  • Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
  • NBC symphony orchestra
  • National Symphony orchestra

Final Take

It takes a keen ear to know what the best orchestra is. You need to have worked on and listened to complete symphonies and played in at least one violin concerto to understand what goes into being a player.

Classical music is consumed differently with the changing times, including in the digital concert hall. The one thing that has to remain constant is the excellence overseen by directors like Herbert von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein, Sir Simon Rattle, and others. If you want to achieve that gleaming brass sound, you have to work.

Zen Chung

I'm Zen Chung, a piano and violin teacher based out of Plano, Texas. I started this blog because my students (and their parents) kept asking about the best musical instruments to buy online. Look no further I'm here to save the day! 

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