An Audiophilia Top Ten. Number 14 in the series. (The Greatest Orchestras — updated annually)

by admin on April 1, 2011 · 9 comments

in Audiophilia Top Tens

Our last Top Ten for a while. So, another contentious (but fun) list for our readers. I would very much like to read your additions/deletions to our list.

Almost an impossibility considering the variables, this list is made up of orchestras emphasizing technical viruosity, brilliant soloists, valued traditions, blend and balance, flawless intonation and ensemble, unique timbres, conductor draw, musical consistency at home and on tour, etc. As money, music directors, favours are continually in flux, we could do another list next year (or, maybe next month) and it may look completely different. But, for now, this is how Audiophilia sees it.

And, yes, this particular list is in order. I was surprised not to add Dresden or Leipzig to the list (certainly, both in a Top 20, but oddly, since the fall of the wall, I think they’ve lost their edge a little.

If you have not heard the miraculous Lucerne Festival Orchestra (Abbado’s star collection), plenty on YouTube. Amazing music making.


1. Lucerne Festival Orchestra
2. Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
3. Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
4. Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam
5. Chicago Symphony Orchestra
6. London Symphony Orchestra
7. Philadelphia Orchestra
8. Boston Symphony Orchestra
9. The Cleveland Orchestra
10. The Philharmonia Orchestra

A few changes and moves for 2014

Jansons BRSO in (always a number 11) and The Philharmonia out (too many extra players for consistency).

1. Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
2. Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
3. Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam
4. Chicago Symphony Orchestra
5. London Symphony Orchestra
6. The Cleveland Orchestra
7. Dresden Staatskapelle
8. Boston Symphony Orchestra
9. Philadelphia Orchestra
10.Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

Since the death of founder Claudio Abbado, the Lucerne’s future is in play.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Fergus Macleod 04.01.11 at 11:09 am

Hmmmm contentious - as always!! ;-).
I am not really sure you can count the Luzern Festival Orchestra as an orchestra in the real sense - maybe you can. One definitely missing from the list is Bavarian Radio Symphony. Also would have to give a pretty massive honorable mention to the CBSO - who are easily up there, and also Zürich Tonhalle.

admin 04.01.11 at 12:33 pm

The Zurich has improved of late. CBSO, yes, a fine orchestra.

The BRSO I always find the poor cousin to the BPO. A very good orchestra, especially under Jansons, but not in my 10.

Welcome, Fergus, BTW. Cheers, a

roy harris 04.01.11 at 1:59 pm

i think you should have included the orchestra de la suisse romande and the nbc orchestra, even though they do not exist .

in addition the london phil, pittsburgh symphony under steinberg, and minneapolis orch should have been included.

evidently you don’t think too much of the ny phil. it certainly was a great orchestra under the direction of several composers, can’t say that now.

get rid of the philadelphia orchestra, in any case, the others are worthy, although the lucerne ? abbado’s greatness was evident when he conducted other orchestras.

if dudamel ever becomes the permanent conductor of the ny phil, watch out. he’ll whip it into shape.


can an orchestra be considered great if its invidual members are very talented even though its permanent conductor is only fair and not getting the best out of it.

in the case of karajan, i think the orchestra was resposible for his stature not the other way around.

how’s your montreal orchestra ? i assumed you have played with them several times ??

lastly hasn’t the rotterdam orchestra had its moments of greatness ??

roy harris 04.01.11 at 2:13 pm

let’s do this for instrumentalists, such as piano, violin, and guitar–soloists only

what do you think anthony ?

why stop here, let’s apply it to speakers, preamps, and amps, but limit it to 5 rather than 10.

admin 04.02.11 at 8:41 pm

Montreal SO is still the best in Canada and getting a new hall. Salle Wilfred Pelletier is nearly as bad Thomson Hall. The new one, hopefully, will be great.

Just got back from a day in La Belle Province. Montreal Audio Show. Report coming soon.

More Top tens coming. ;)

Cheers, a

roy harris 04.10.11 at 1:46 pm


what are your observations about the current state of the ny phil ?

is it the orchestra or conductor that lacks greatness ?

obviously it’s not one of your favorite orchestras.

admin 04.10.11 at 2:34 pm

I like Alan Gilbert, but I think the honeymoon’s over from newspaper reports. The Phil has two problems. Attitude and that God awful monstrosity of a hall.

I heard them play quite beautifully under both Masur and Gilbert. Some amazing players in the orchestra, but not enough to get into my Top Ten.

Cheers, a

admin 10.03.14 at 9:32 pm

My new list as of late 2014

1. Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (Rattle ’till 2016 then? Barenboim, Christian Thielemann?)
2. Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (NA)
3. Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam (Gatti in 2015)
4. Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Muti)
5. London Symphony Orchestra (Gergiev ’till 2016 then? Rattle, Noseda?)
6. The Cleveland Orchestra (Franz Weser-Most just signed ’till 2022!)
7. Dresden Staatskapelle (Thielemann)
8. Boston Symphony Orchestra (Andris Nelsons just began his inaugural season)
9. Philadelphia Orchestra (Yannick Nézet-Séguin)
10.Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (Mariss Jansons)

Since the death of founder Claudio Abbado, the Lucerne’s future is in play.

admin 10.03.14 at 9:59 pm

If we added the next ten, in no order:

Leipzig Gewandhaus, Philharmonia, London Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Budapest Festival Orchestra…that’s six. get’s a little foggy after that :)

San Francisco, St. Louis, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, CBSO, Montreal and Toronto are playing very well.


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