The Most Famous Orchestras in the USA

The United States isn’t really famous for its orchestras or its Classical music in particular, but this is still a country that has a lot of acclaimed orchestras that are capable of moving some of the most demanding music fans in the world emotionally. There are lots of local orchestras and symphonies in the United States that tend to be funded locally, or through generous benefactors. However, there are also symphonies and orchestras that have managed to truly stand out from the competition in the United States. These are the orchestras that people will travel all over the world to see, even if they would never have visited the United States for any other reason.

The Big Five Orchestras in the United States

There is a group of orchestras in the United States that have come to be known as the Big Five, and they are still known as the Big Five long after the term was first coined. These orchestras have been known as the Big Five since around the late 1950’s. It’s been more than half a century, and these orchestras are still known as the Big Five. The Big Five orchestras are as follows: the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Cleveland Orchestra.

These orchestras have been distinguished by a few characteristics since the 1950’s and before the term ‘Big Five’ was coined. For one thing, these orchestras are obviously famous for the fact that they will produce some of the best classical music that people are going to hear anywhere. They have some of the highest standards for the quality of the musicianship that people anywhere can expect. There are also recording guarantees associated with these symphonies, so the people involved can be sure that they will be able to hear the music without necessarily having to show up for the shows themselves. The shows for the Big Five are going to be expensive at the best of times and hard to get to even for the people who are relatively local, which makes it that much more important for recordings to be possible in the case of the Big Five orchestras.

These are the orchestras that all concert musicians want to be able to work with, and with good reason. In addition to the fact that the concert musicians who work with them are going to be among the most famous concert musicians in the world, it is hard to beat the Big Five when it comes to the labor regulations. These are the orchestras that offer excellent wages and benefits, along with paid vacations in many cases. The people who work for these orchestras will get treated right. Many of them will earn more money than almost all other classical musicians, and they’re going to be able to really enjoy their time with the symphonies as well.

These orchestras treat their employees right, which is one of the reasons why they are able to produce such excellent music in the first place. Naturally, these two factors feed into each other very well. The orchestras are great, and they attract the best employees. They can pay their employees well because their employees are so talented and their shows sell so well. This positive feedback loop has created a situation in which these Big Five orchestras stay on top, and they have maintained excellent reputations for more than a century in some cases.

The New York Philharmonic dates back to 1842. The Cleveland Orchestra is the newest of the Big Five, and it dates back to 1918. The other three are from the late nineteenth century or the early twentieth century. They are all still going strong after all of these years.

The Enduring Reputation of the Big Five

The Big Five have all been around for a long time, and they’re not going away any time soon. These are some of the most popular orchestras in the world, and their reputation has been solidified over the years. People are going to have the time of their lives at all of their shows. The Big Five will be entertaining people for centuries longer.

The Big Five


The Big Five orchestras in the United States refers to the five symphony orchestras that steered the field in several aspects. Some of them are total contract weeks, the quality of musicianship, recording guarantees, musical brilliance, paid vacations and weekly basic wages.

Origin of the Term Big Five

The phrase ‘Big Five’ was invented around the period when long-playing recordings were made available. It was also during this time that consistent orchestral radio broadcasts started expanding and the five orchestras that comprise the group held a concert series every year in New York City.

In the early 20th century, there was prevalent talk about the Major Seven U.S. orchestras but by mid-century it became the Big Three with the East Coast Ensembles dominating the radio broadcasts and recordings. The Big Three were Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.

Despite the Big Three label being in use in the late 1950’s, the rising reputation of the Cleveland Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra saw the Big Three evolve into the Big Five.

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What Does the Big Five Comprise of?

Here are the orchestras that make the Big Five in order of foundation.

    • New York Philharmonic

It is the oldest active orchestra in the USA as it was founded in 1842. Its home is the David Geffen Hall, which was up until September 2015 referred to as the Avery Fisher Hall. The hall is at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York. The present music director is Alan Gilbert, who has been in charge since 2009. The current president of the orchestra is Mathew VanBesien.

The orchestra held it record-setting 14000th concert in December 2014. Earlier on in February 2008, the orchestra made history by performing in Pyongyang after being invited by the North Korean government. The visit was viewed as a chance to expand relations with one of the most isolated nations globally. The concert was broadcast live on CNN, television and radio in North Korea and CNN International.

    • Boston Symphony Orchestra

The sophisticated American orchestra is centered in Boston Massachusetts and was founded in 1881. The Boston Symphony Orchestra holds most of its concerts at the Boston Symphony Hall. Every year, it offers the backbone for one of the greatest summer festivals globally- Tanglewood. The orchestra scoped the 2008 Grammy Award for the Best Classic Vocal Recording thanks to its recording of Peter Lieberson’s Neruda Songs under the 2004-2011 director, James Levine. The current director of this classy orchestra is Andris Nelsons with Bernard Haitink being the Conductor Emeritus and Seihi Ozawa as the music director laureate.

In April 2015, the Boston Symphony Orchestra publicized that it had a new recording partnership with Deutsche Grammophon that was set to concentrate on Dmitri Shostakovich’s music. The initial recording of this series of the Tenth Symphony was recorded in concert in the same month and released on CD in August the same year. The following year, it won the Best Orchestral Performance Grammy Award.

    • Chicago Symphony Orchestra

The American orchestra is also part of the Big Five and is centered in Chicago Illinois. It was established in 1891 and the Orchestra Hall in Chicago is its home.

The orchestra retains a summer home at Ravinia in Highland Park, Illinois where it plays a summer season. Its first performance here was during the second season of Ravinia Park in November 1905. The orchestra continued appearing on and off till August 1931 when the Park fell dark as a result of the Great Depression.

In August 1936, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra aided in inaugurating the initial season of the Ravinia Festival. Every summer since then, it has been in residence at the Festival. The orchestra’s reigning music director is Riccardo Muti whose tenure began in 2010. The CSO has accumulated a broad discography. Its recordings have scoped 62 Grammy Awards in various categories.

    • Philadelphia Orchestra

It is an American orchestra with its base in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The orchestra is centered at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. It holds its subscription concerts in Verizon Hall that number to over 130 each year. The Philadelphia Orchestra was founded in 1900 and until 2001, it held its concerts at the Academy of Music.

During summer, the Mann Center for the Performing Arts becomes the orchestra’s home. The Philadelphia Orchestra also has a residence at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and Colorado’s Bravo Vail Valley Festival during summer since July 2007. It also holds a yearly series of concerts at the Carnegie Hall.

The orchestra prides itself in several noteworthy media firsts. It was the first one to create electrical recordings in 1925 and come up with a radio broadcast that was commercially sponsored on NBC in 1929. The Philadelphia Orchestra was also first in making an appearance on a national TV show, CBS, in 1948. Additionally, it was the first key orchestra to allow music downloads from its website without a distributor.

The orchestra has also made diplomatic history by being the first American orchestra to visit China in 1973. It held a performance at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The orchestra was also the first American one to tour Vietnam.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin has been the orchestra’s music director since 2012 with the current president and CEO being Allison Vulgamore.

    • Cleveland Orchestra

The orchestra is based in Cleveland Ohio and was established in 1918. It holds most of its concerts at the Severance Hall and during summer, the orchestra has their yearly Blossom Festival that takes place in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio at the Blossom Music Center.

The Cleveland Orchestra also has continuing performing affiliations in Vienna, New York City, Lucerne and a Miami residency. Since the 1960s, it has also done multi-concert tours on the West Coast on and off. From its early years, the orchestra has traveled all over the eastern U.S., recorded numerous albums and created radio broadcasts. Its current music director is Franz Welser-Möst.

The Future of the Big Five

Although people still use the term Big Five, many are of the idea that the classification is outdated and has lost its meaning. Numerous critics have made suggestions that the top echelon has expanded.