The Big Five

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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.

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.

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