What are the best orchestras in the world?

January 10, 2007 at 02:44 AM · I am just curious, what do some of you consider to be the top five (or even 10) Symphony/Philharmonic orchestras in the world? I know, I know, what do we mean by best, etc. etc, but you know what I mean. And yes, I am looking for value judgement, biased, purely subjective answers.

Replies (100)

January 10, 2007 at 03:00 AM · Wien, Berlin, Concertgebouw, New York, Cleveland...

And Chicago, but that's because I live here : )...

January 10, 2007 at 03:04 AM · Pittsburgh Symphony is one of them.

January 10, 2007 at 03:04 AM · Greetings,

all of the above plus Israel Phil, Czech Phil.



January 10, 2007 at 03:05 AM · 1. San Francisco Symphony.

2. Vienna Phil.

3. Rochester Phil.

4. London Phil.

5. New York Phil.

January 10, 2007 at 03:45 AM · While the Vienna orchestra continues to practice both sexual and racial discrimination then as far as I'm concerned they don't rate as an orchestra. They do rate as scum bags though and rather highly in that category.

As for the best orchestras, for me it's probably the Berlin Phil, but I did prefer them under Abbado rather than Rattle.


January 10, 2007 at 04:10 AM · Berlin for sure, Israel, SFO, Chicago, NY Phil. That would be my list of top 5. I'm not as familiar with some of the others, although Amsterdam and Czech Phil are also excellent.

January 10, 2007 at 04:36 AM · I don't think New York is the same with Maazel. Cleveland hasn't been as good with Frankly Worst than Most either.

January 10, 2007 at 04:56 AM · Vienna (it's tradition -- they aren't racist), Berlin, Gewandhaus, London Symphony, and a toss up, French National, NYPhil, Cleveland, Concertgebouw, Frankfurt Radio, London Phil, Birmingham, dunno... one of those. Probably Concertgebouw or French National (dunno if they are the same as Radio -- might be).


January 10, 2007 at 05:44 AM · What about Philly? Aren't they know for an incredible string section? That's what I've always been told...

January 10, 2007 at 06:05 AM · How the hell do people do these? What a fantastic group of jet setters we have on this website, to be able to fly around the globe and hear the best with such a frequency as to be able to determine what is the world's best orchestra, and rank many of them at that.

January 10, 2007 at 06:26 AM · Greetings,

Pieter, you are the only person on this list who has yet to play in them. We we were going to break it to you gently,



January 10, 2007 at 07:19 AM · I feel so left out Buri.

But, thanks for giving it to me real easy like.

January 10, 2007 at 08:24 AM · The best orchestra I've seen a live performance of was the National Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin. I'm not saying they are THE best, but probably in the top 10. It was an absolutely brilliant performance.

January 10, 2007 at 09:10 AM · Pieter and Buri,

It's called being die-hard fans.

Everytime an orchestra comes to your city, go see it! Philly comes to my city all the time, so does Cleveland -- they are great, but then they are not better than the European Orchestras.

Just so happens that I live in New York City, and by Carnegie Hall, where the best orchestras come to show their stuff every year. Also, all the winners of violin competitions, so = P.

I'd say... hold off making fun of people and acting all high and superior for ONE WEEK. Start there and maybe we can all help exorcise the stereotype of violinists being ridiculously mean and rude out of you two. Just a suggestion.

Stop being dicks...


January 10, 2007 at 09:15 AM · Vince,

There's a product in the women's aisle in the drugstore for your issue.

We were just kidding. Sometimes we do that.

January 10, 2007 at 10:46 AM · Hi,

the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, and not just because I live nearby. They've also several chamber music groups, e.g. an excellent string quartet.

Bye, Juergen

January 10, 2007 at 11:35 AM · Vince,

So was living in caves and beating up women at one time, as was sending children as young as six to work in mines, factories, workhouses or deport 10-year olds to Australia for stealing bread or a handkerchief, slavery, more recently apartheid and civil rights, etc. etc. etc. even in the current world.

So totally agree with the poster who does not rate them as an orchestra.

Two recent threads on this matter, which covered fairly all the issues (both pro and con) can found at

Vienna Philharmonic-Still Scandalous

Bad News about Women...

By the way, apart from the Berlin and London Philharmonic, I also really like Academy of At Martin in the Fields and The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, though perhaps they cannot be counted as full orchestras?

January 10, 2007 at 11:40 AM · Hi,

I thought that Vienna passed a law allowing women in the orchestra sometime in the late 1990's... That said, it is still a pretty great orchestra musically speaking, or so it was when I heard them.

As for the rest of the ranking, I will leave it to the critiques on this who are much better at it then me ;=)



January 10, 2007 at 02:09 PM · Ah, rainbows, sunshine, tiptoeing through tulips. What a world it would be if it were perfect!

January 10, 2007 at 03:20 PM · I love the Czech Phil. It's not always the most perfect, but they play like an orchestra of chamber players.

January 10, 2007 at 03:57 PM · National Symphony under Leonard Slatkin was always amazing- he knows how to breath life into an orchestra.

I'm not sure if I could list the top 5 orchestras in the world. I think all the orchestras that have been aformentioned deserve a place and on any given list at any given time they will be on there. Comparing European orchestras and American orchestras is difficult- in general, there are quite large differences. The American orchestras are very concerned with pinpoint accuracy and cleanliness, and in my opinion, having seen the "top 5 American orchestras" (generally considered Boston, New York, Chicago, Philly, and Cleveland, although one could make a case for LA to be the 6th), Cleveland has this down to a fine art. However, the European orchestras have such a sound and focus on musicality above almost anything else. I had the privelege of seeing Vienna in Cleveland last year. It wasn't as accurate as Cleveland Orchestra generally was, but it wasn' that they couldn't be perfect. It's just not what they were concerned with- if an entrance is just slightly off in a performance, then they will of course try to fix it next time, but it doesn't cause a derailment and nobody thinks anything of it. I think Vienna and Berlin deserve to be on their own list, along with Concertgebouw. After that, I'm afraid I just haven't heard enough from the other orchestras. I think if we expanded the list to "top 10" in the world then we might all come to more of an agreement.

About Vienna Phil- while I do not condone the fact that obviously they are still hesitant to hire many females (there are so few in that orchestra!), I also don't think it makes their music any less gorgeous. Does music have to be made from a co-ed orchestra to be great? Vivaldi's all-girl orchestra in the 18th century would not feel that way. I don't judge a person's music on what they do (same reason that while I am terrified of Michael Jackson, I still listen to his "Thriller" recording occasionally), just on what they play. If you start digging in too far, then you'll find scandals and treachery just about everywhere in this biz.

January 10, 2007 at 04:15 PM · concerning vienna, i believe there are a somewomen members - just watch video recordings of their performances. you can count them on one hand, but the film I saw was also quite a few years ago.

2005 they even had a women conductor conduct for the first time in history. i know, whoo hoo, women conductors have been conducting forever in other great venues, but this suggests that things are changing for the more accepting.

i believe there are also women players in the wonderful vienna opera orchestra, who will probably have the opportunity to become members of the vienna philharmonic after a few years in the pit.

it's such a process.

it is tradition, and vienna remains a super catholic and conservative city, especially because of its great cultural history. germany and austria still close down completely on sundays, as well as all the catholic holidays (well, at least in vienna). it's no wonder they don't want to mess with a good thing that has placed them in such high esteem in the world views of so many people. we look at vienna and imagine an antiquated cultural center, bubbling with music and art. i think in one way we want it to remain as is, as mahler and toscanini had once conducted or where once freud had lived. it's hard to hold the expectation of the classical "vienna" from the 21st century point of view while people there hold themselves stricter to even more legacies, traditions and precedences than we can imagine.

though, it doesn't mean sexism and rascism are ok (there are a few asian players in the orchestra as well), but things are changing slowly for the better, as such issues can only evolve - slowly and hopefully surely.

January 10, 2007 at 06:13 PM · I saw some article on the Vienna Orchestra and racism. I'll try to remember where I saw it. This orchestra obviously highlights some troubling social issues in an art form which really shouldn't be concerned with anything as petty.

January 10, 2007 at 08:44 PM · Greetings,

Vince, aside fro your inabilty recognize a sense of humor your persistent use of offensive language achives nothing and creates emnity. I have flagged your message since the type of language you use will be offensive to many people.

I a sufficiently annoyed by the crassnes of your letter to publically challnege you a s follows: give me -one- example of genuine meaness or whatever other epithets you accuse meof that I have used on this site. I didn't intend to turn this reply into a self serving monologue but you have been so thoughtless I think I will. I have been on this list for many years. During that time I have literally donated many hundreds of hours to giving as much thouhgt as I can to helping people with their playing as far as I am capable. I have not always enjoyed doing it butI have never hesitated when someone has a genuine need for help that falls within the area of what I know. What I know incidnetally, has been painfully accumulated over many years of hard labour and many thousands of dollars expenditure on lessons , masterclasses including some of the best players and teachers aroundetc. In essence music has been the center of my life since I was a child and I will move heaven and earth to share it with others whatever the cost.

So, for example, although I charge a small fortune for private lessons .I never hesitate to teach for free when someone is struggling but has a genuine desire to play.

When I read this it seems horribly self serving but it is a simple statement of the situation.

I don't know why you write the way you do but it is not in the spirit of this board in any sense and as someone who is clearly involved in study taht includes much reading and debate I would have thought that would have been clearer to you.Sometimes actions like the one you have just comitted make me really tired


January 10, 2007 at 08:57 PM · There are so many great orchestras out there, it's mindboggling!

One I saw at the Proms in London blew me away a year or two ago: the Bavarian Radio orchestra. It was amazing. The whole orchestra would move as a unit, like a giant sea anemone or something. And the sound was glorious...

January 10, 2007 at 09:28 PM · I would say - with qualifications to follow - in the US, the tradtional big five: Boston, Phil., Chicago, Cleaveland, New York. In the past, for my tastes, the first three would have ranked slightly higher. However, in recent years, I think the NYP has come up, whereas the BSO, still quite good , has lost just a bit of lustre and specialness. Also, the Met orchestra.

In Europe, Berlin, LPO, Concertgebau - and yes, Vienna, without excusing its sexist 'tradition' to say nothing of its Nazi past associations, which Leonard Bernstein was aware of. (Similarly,we can rank Wagner as a major composer, without thinking anything positive of him as a human being.) There are any number of fine orchestras just below this group. There is an increasingly high international standard today. Frequently the past few years, I might turn on the radio in the middle of a piece and be very impressed with the orchestra, and find out to my surprize, that it was a 'minor' one. Other times I would think an orchestra was quite OK, but nothing special, only to learn that it was, say the Berlin!

Along with a high international standard comes more standardization, as well. Nevertheless, it seems that some orchestras tend to lead with certain aspects, and keep them somehat salient even through several music directors. Someone mentioned Cleaveland's precision, and I agree. NY and certainly Chicago emphasize brilliance. Philly and Wien. have more warmth of sound.

The only way to realy be sure of the inherent differences among orchestras would be to hear two or more orchestras one right after the other, in the same hall, playing the same piece, led by the same conductor - or a recording to the same effect (same space, miking, etc.) - a fascinating experiment, which, of course will never happen.

Speaking of ranking, Oistrakh was once asked to rank himself among violin virtuosos. "I'd say I'm no. 2", came the reply.

- OK, who is #1?

- Oh, there are SO many!

January 10, 2007 at 10:01 PM · Maia, I'll second your recommendation of the Bavarian Radio Symphony. I heard them in Seattle and came away with the same experience - they all moved and played together. Just their presence when they bowed before they even played was incredibly striking.

I was thinking about what it was that they did. I'm not completely sure, but I think when the conductor came to the podium, and turned around, they all inhaled a breath and posed.

It might sound insignificant, but it was an amazing presence. And their Brahms 4 was great.

January 10, 2007 at 10:06 PM · Sorry, but I find less than amusing the rationalisation and justification for the behaviour of the Vienna Phil. Some of you really, really need to read up on how bad that orchestra's attitude to women and non-Europeans is.

To claim "tradition" is actually offensive. People eating each other used to be traditional. Doesn't fly in this day and age, nor does the attitude of a bunch of white leftover nazis at the Vienna Phil. Given Austria's history if anything the orchestra should be MORE socially aware, not less.

I suggest you read this article before so blithely dismissing a nasty situation.

I must admit to being saddened that some of you seem to think such prejudice and discrimination is acceptable behaviour in this day and age.


January 10, 2007 at 10:22 PM · BRS!!! yes, that's a good orchestra...

Buri -- I'm sure you mean well with your humor. I mean implying that people don't know anything about orchestras or implying that people think they are so good that one would think they have played in every orchestra that they've ranked... I'm sure you mean well with your humor. I'm sure.

I'm soo sure, that I'll just let you think you are sure that you were using humor with no offensive message, constant humor, just humor.


January 10, 2007 at 10:30 PM · Listen, I don't find discrimination to be acceptable and I find it horribly offensive what they have done. I have read articles on them- only one female in the entire orchestra (harpist) and the few female musicians that have been accepted into Vienna State Opera have a high chance of getting fired. I don't think this is fair at all and I haven't seen anyone up here that thinks this is decent behavior.

However, if a recording of Vienna Phil comes on the radio, are you going to turn it off? Chances are no- because their musicianship is not in question, it's their moral judgement. There have been threads on here in the past about other famous musicians, many of them in the states, that discriminate or do other things such as sexual abuse (or at least discussion as to those accusations). But we still listen to their music. I'm not saying that they're skills as musicians is justification for their behavior, but that their behavior in itself doesn't make them a worse orchestra or exclude them from their rightful place as one of the best orchestras in the world. It's sad that they can't overlook their ridiculous beliefs about women, but their recording with Simon Rattle of the Beethoven Symphonies is still just as intriguing and fascinating.

January 10, 2007 at 11:02 PM · Neil, after reading that, the fact that they have an audience is astounding. They wouldn't in the U.S. There's as often as not a "nothing important but the music itself" attitude from people in that field. Apparently something equivalent in their audience too. Iva Nikolova is so hot.


Christina here's a quote from the article. The Chairman stated "The Vienna Philharmonic is an orchestra of white men that plays music by white men for white people."

Do you still find them intriguing and fascinating, or do they turn your stomach?

January 10, 2007 at 10:41 PM · Vince. At no time did I make that suggestion. I am publically calling you a liar and challenging you to prove that I did. If not, I strongly suggest you get off this list until you learn better manners.

January 10, 2007 at 11:23 PM · I still find their playing fascinating and intriguing. I never said I found the individuals that fascinating. And yes, I've read that entire article, several times. I'm a female violinist, why wouldn't I take that offensively? It's an awful quote by a dispicable man, yet I still cannot deny the beauty in the playing of the orchestra. I've also met a few of the musicians and not all of them feel this way. I can only hope that those who do consider retiring in the very new future (including their management, which is as much as fault as the musicians) and that they can find a way to be "equal opportunists" and still make their music.

January 10, 2007 at 11:34 PM · To me, the statements in the article overwhelm any other sounds they might make. So yeah, I'd turn them off :) I despise racism that much in my gut.

January 10, 2007 at 11:28 PM · I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree (this is posted to Jim, since there are obviously two conversations going on here!) And I truly despise racism too Jim, don't get me wrong or make me appear in any other light here, because I do. I'm a feminist (not in the radical sense) and I believe in equality for all and I truly hope that one day we will all believe in this. Until that happens though, I'm not going to entirely ignore a group that isn't quite as "moral" as I'd like them to be. If that was the case, how many people in the world do you think we'd have to avoid?

January 10, 2007 at 11:27 PM · How the hell do people do these? What a fantastic group of jet setters we have on this website, to be able to fly around the globe and hear the best with such a frequency as to be able to determine what is the world's best orchestra, and rank many of them at that.


From Stephen Brivati

Posted on January 9, 2007 at 11:26 PM (MST)


Pieter, you are the only person on this list who has yet to play in them. We we were going to break it to you gently,




From Pieter Viljoen

Posted on January 10, 2007 at 12:19 AM (MST)

I feel so left out Buri.

But, thanks for giving it to me real easy like.

Sure it's all in great fun. But next time, just keep it to yourself. Sometimes being serious about something like music, is worth a try.

It was two, not just you. And don't get offended when people point you out. Things happen, like humor, like life. Have a good day.


January 10, 2007 at 11:38 PM · I just read the article link in Neil's last posting, and would recommend it to anyone intersted in the topic of the Vienna Philharmonic. There's no reason to bury our heads, ostrich style on this issue - not that I'm suggesting that anyone here is doing that. At the same time, there's no reason to pretend that they're not a very major orchestra from a purely musical perspective. Indeed, if they were a very mediocre, provincial orchestra, their attitudes, bad as they are, wouldn't carry as much clout. So let's admit that they are very good, and musically important - and for that very reason, all the worse for their attitudes.

One thing that struck me as particularly ironic in the article was one musician fearing that their unity and style and soul would be compromosed by female colleagues especially in a Mahler symphony. Mahler, a Jewish composer, was unknown to most of the members in the 1950's, when Leonard Bernstein, another most distinguished Jewish musician, came to introduce Mahler to them. He met with a tremendous amount of resistance, with anti-semitic overtones. He finally won them over. If they can change in that respect, they can change in other respects - IF they really want to.

January 10, 2007 at 11:34 PM · ( trying to delete an inadverdant double posting. Hope it works!)

January 10, 2007 at 11:34 PM · Mr. Klayman, I think you perhaps said it better than I did. Thank you.

Back to the original subject. I'm surprised I haven't seen many people bring up Montreal Symphony. Unfortunately in the last few years there's been so much drama occuring in that orchestra, but I recently heard a recording of Rossini overtures done by them in the 80's, I believe, that was simply astounding. Their sound and precision were incredible. The individual players were splendid too- especially their principal oboist and trombonist. The solos in those overtures (which occur a lot for those players) were unbelievable. I believe, looking at their overall body of work and recordings, that they would rank very high on my list, at least in or near the top 10.

January 10, 2007 at 11:33 PM · Ahh, I can only judge from recordings, but...

1. Vienna Philharmonic

2. London Symphony Orchestra

3. San Francisco Symphony

As for this whole 'humor' thing, can anyone honestly be offended by such harmless, unoffensive sarcasm? I mean, I can't possibly imagine someone being offended unless they're being sarcastic. *Makes a mental note to never over-shelter children if I ever have any*

January 10, 2007 at 11:44 PM · Christina, as far as the "it" he said: I can separate the two also. But because of the statement I quoted, I truly couldn't enjoy them.

If a great performer did something personal to you, you wouldn't want to hear him again. To me, the statement is personal and it should be to you too.

January 10, 2007 at 11:44 PM · Mr. Miller, I understand your position. I don't know how to explain it- I do take it personally, but I still am able to enjoy their music. I still enjoy the music of Michael Jackson and Jimmy Levine (nothing has been proven in the Levine case, but there have been allegations that will probably never be proved or disproved). Some of the great musicians in the past have been quite racist and discriminatory. Unfortunately, I know this argument is only partially valid because nobody has had their comments echoed throughout the world as the Vienna Phil's have.

I guess I still listen to their music hoping that there are members (which I know there are) that do truly believe in being equal to all. I'm not letting the rotten apples (who should be taken out and beaten as far as I'm concerned) ruin the efforts of the orchestra.

January 10, 2007 at 11:50 PM · Ms. Wilke:)

But if any of the above had offended you personally, you wouldn't enjoy them anymore.

January 10, 2007 at 11:52 PM · Sadly, I've been offended personally by people at schools in the past. Even though I do want to shoot poison darts at them while they're on stage, I won't ignore them if they're good players. A good player is a good player. But perhaps you're right, I wouldn't truly "enjoy" the performance as I would a friend or a respected colleague. Perhaps I will always have a bit of a bitter taste for Vienna when I hear them now, you do have a point. I guess time will tell... I will tell you that I'll be listening to Cleveland recordings in the future (i've always preferred them anyway for the most part). Now off to practice, thank you for this highly stimulating discussion, Mr. Miller. :)

January 10, 2007 at 11:56 PM · "Now off to practice"

Good luck in your Vienna Phil audition!


P.S. the comparison between bad friends and a racist institution breaks down somewhere...oops I see you're gone :)

January 10, 2007 at 11:56 PM · Too funny, too funny.

January 11, 2007 at 12:21 AM · They threw Pete Rose out of baseball for a lot less.

January 11, 2007 at 12:42 AM · Tarnation, I miss all the fun.

Oddly enough, although I agree totally with Jim and I turn them off when I hear them now*, I also understand Christina's view. At least she's taken the time to read up on them and is able to separate the philosophy from the music. Personally, I can't - the two for me are intertwined.

Now if you'll excuse me I must jet off to see another orchestra. I was thinking of the Leipzig Gewandhus. I wonder what they're playing tonight.


* I will not admit to owning the Art of the Viola CD by the principal violist of the Vienna Phil, Heinrich Koll,. I don't own it I'm just renting it permanently and besides he has some of them wimmen creatures playin' on the CD with him. Besides I bought before I learnt about the orchestra's failings. I wouldn't buy it now.

January 11, 2007 at 12:52 AM · Vince, Buri and Pieter are always like that. They don't mean any harm whatsoever.

As for Vienna, it reminds me of the whole "Wagner-the-Nazi-pervert" issue--I personally cannot listen to that man's music without feeling slightly ill. On the other hand, I know plenty of people who can ignore his grossness as a person and enjoy his revolutionary, ground-breaking Music of the Future.

(although, he wasn't all that revolutionary, he stole pretty nearly everything from Liszt...)

January 11, 2007 at 01:03 AM · Liszt stole it from the Druids.

I can't think about the Vienna thing now without laughing. It soooo couldn't happen here. Maybe things as worse, but not that. Besides the fact that it wouldn't be legal, it still couldn't happen.

January 11, 2007 at 01:01 AM · Funnily enough Maura the issue of Wagner also occured to me. I'm sure there are a zillion disreputable, if not downright disgusting, composers and musicians that we listen to. I guess that sometimes we just need to take a stand on some issues.


January 11, 2007 at 01:44 AM · Never realised the Vienna Philharmonic were so good. Will buy more of their recordings.

January 11, 2007 at 01:41 AM · The Gypsies, Jim, not the Druids. :)

Regarding composers of poor character, sure there are lots of them--Beethoven was dreadfully rude, Brahms was a kvetch, Mahler was pompous, Mussorgsky was a drunk, so was Wieniawski--but all of them had redeeming characteristics as well, something I have found utterly lacking in Wagner. I can easily forgive most great artists their human shortcomings, but Wagner for me is just too far beyond the pale.

January 11, 2007 at 01:58 AM · Hey, how come there's no women baseball players?

January 11, 2007 at 02:49 AM · I will never watch another baseball game until they let women play!

January 11, 2007 at 04:23 AM · Maura,

In regards to : "

(although, he wasn't all that revolutionary, he stole pretty nearly everything from Liszt...)".....Wagner also took quite alot from Mendelssohn. He idolized him, and his obsession turned to hatred which fueled a mission in his life to discredit Felix M. for being Jewish (eventhough Felix's Grandfather converted to Christianity). Wagner went out of his way to try to wipe Felix's legacy from the German musical landscape. It was not until early 20th century, that people brought back Mendelssohn's music.

It is no wonder that due to his insecurities of knowing that he could not measure up to Mendelssohn in other idioms like chamber music, symphonies and concertos that he pursued Opera.

January 11, 2007 at 05:14 AM · Oy vey. The Wagner debate. I thought I had escaped it thoroughly since days of music history classes.

Regarding the whole matter (not the fellow posters' online jabber) - to me - despite the putrid behaviors and ideologies, there is always something to learn. I am not so vain and self-absorbed to think that I’m above the morally misguided and can’t possibly learn anything from them.

Wagner’s music is pretty amazing. He was a crazy dude whose life and work had to mean “something”. Even if you get the jeepers after listening to the anti-Semitic Venusberg orgy scene, or slap yourself relentlessly for loving the absolutely hateful, jarring and offensive Lohegrin overture (someone PLEASE note the sarcasm, otherwise I’d die), take a moment to break it apart, analyze it. He has something tremendous to show you, and you can integrate all his technique into your own and write a loving opera for the Jewish people, along with a treatise of humanity – all have to be on the same level as his operas and overtures of course. To me, that’s the only effective stance you can take against someone like Wagner, who is long dead and you can’t slap him across the face in indignation. Why deprive yourself of such good learning and experience?

Same with Vienna Phil. For musicians, just spending 2 hours in a Vienna Phil concert or rehearsal is immensely beneficial - not only do you get to witness the way a very distinct group of people work (or rehearse), you can analyze individuals' techniques, bowings, phrasings, yadda yadda. As musicians, we’ll probably have to perform with a bunch of obnoxious people at some point in our lives, and I know certain individuals in Vienna don’t feel the sentiment the chairperson expresses, as a previous poster pointed out. Just close your eyes and listen to the product, absorb the good that you can, and then you can leave the place with all the self-righteous integrity to judge them if you care to do so.

I think learning, even from morally tarnished individuals, can still be beneficial, as long as you are aware of your own integrity and are a big enough person to acknowledge that yes, a despicable human being might actually be more capable, learned and effective in something than you. I don’t care if Paganini sold his soul to the devil, slept with the devil, or was the devil’s personal bitch, I will be slaving over his caprices and concertos for quite some time – to my own benefit of course. It's an uneasy feeling, but despicable and greasy humans sometimes are very much talented and inspired ones as well. Don't deprive yourself of a chance to learn and grow because of others' distasteful behavior - martyrdom aside, the detriment is still to yourself ultimately, since Wagner’s scores will still be performed, and Vienna Phil members will still have their sweet jobs of performing wonderful music in the wonderful Musikverein.

January 11, 2007 at 05:51 AM · Yes, well put. For me, I can't listen to historical wartime performances of the Berlin or Vienna orchestras, even though I love Furtwangler. The idea of deriving pleasure from those people at that moment in their history is simply still reprehensible to me. That doesn't diminish their art; I just find it personally sickening. I'm not making a case for this point of view...just telling my truth. They were indeed making great music, while former members of their orchestras were sent to the gas chambers. There are plenty of others to learn great music from. Including those who fled either our of choice or necessity. Plenty.

January 11, 2007 at 06:07 AM · Oh of course Alan. Plenty of inspirations from whom to learn.

(Ahem - Shostakovich - but why start another controversy, eh? ; )

I was making the case with a 21st century musician's point of view. Bildung has been drilled in my mind - too much German literature.

January 11, 2007 at 06:14 AM · I'm back.... and I agree that wartime recordings of Wagner is slightly sickening. It was used as the "theme songs" (of sorts) for some of the sickest human beings that have ever walked the face of this earth, in my opinion. However, I do suggest that anyone who is interested in music being made at that time to research Furtwangler. He was a very interesting man and used his influence for good during the war. Kind of a fascinating history he has.

January 11, 2007 at 06:53 AM · Yes, he did some wonderful things for a handful of musicians. Perhaps saved their lives.

Aside from his Bruckner (he is widely regarded as the greatest conductor of Bruckner) and Wagner, four of his greatest recordings are providing the orchestral accompaniament for three concertos with Menuhin (Beethoven, Brahms and an elfin Mendelssohn) and in Beethoven's 5th piano concerto (with Edwin Fischer). I've said it before, but the climax in the slow movement of the Brahms concerto is one of the greatest moments in the history of recorded music; it is the unleashing of an avalanche that irresistably propels the solo violin part. You simply must hear it (wish I knew how to post it for you).

January 11, 2007 at 08:17 AM · The intrinsic value of something isn't judged by the beliefs of its creators. You can't throw parts out, although it's been tried. The policy of some organization is a different thing.

The message in this, which sort of backfires out of it, is that the Vienna Phil isn't really viewed as a significant entity. Obviously not significant in terms of numbers, but not symbolically either. If there was a similar policy in Deutche Bank or something the fur would fly.

January 11, 2007 at 09:06 AM · Great discussion -- yeah, that's why I LOVE Shostakovich Violin Concerto Op.77/99 and his Viola Sonata -- ridiculously beautiful masterpieces!

Wilke, try Cleveland Mahler 5 Donanyi recording -- the scherzo is PERFECT!

I wouldn't mind banning Wagner's music and replacing it with more deserving music, ie. Mahler's.


January 11, 2007 at 04:12 PM · I just heard Cleveland play Mahler 5 recently and I own the recording with Dohnanyi. Boy, is that a great recording. The live performance wasn't quite the same and we didn't have Dohnanyi, but he is coming back this year to make a guest conducting appearance conducting Beethoven 3. If anyone lives around Cleveland, I suggest coming to that concert.

January 11, 2007 at 04:19 PM · (Edit: whoops, got interrupted, my first comment is addressed to Vince V)

Banning Wagner's music is a ridiculous idea, and I hope you were joking. Free speech, anyone?

The thing is though, I personally just don't like his music. I've played some of it that I liked (Meistersinger prelude was fun) but in general I find it (especially his later works) pompous, longwinded, and frequently tasteless. I give him much credit for the "leitmotif" concept but he could have used it better, sometimes they end up yapping reflexively across the stage like a pack of Pavlov's dogs.

His disgusting world view is just another reason I dislike him, besides just not liking his music especially well. And the comparison with Paganini, I must respectfully say, is a pretty poor one. Who actually believes he made a pact with the devil?? Of course there are piles of lurid stories about him but not a shred of evidence for any of them--the tabloids were even worse back then than they are now, if you can believe that. Wagner, on the other hand, proudly left us ample evidence of his unbelievable arrogance, weird perversions, and racism. I know, I know, we all have feet of clay and we shouldn't reject Great Art because its creator was a jerk. Hats off to those better souls than I who can forgive everything in perhaps the most repulsive character in the history of music for the sake of one Tristan chord (which was actually written by...oh never mind.) My problem, though, is I don't find his music to be such heavenly Great Art to be worth the effort of ignoring his disgusting personality. To return to an earlier example, Paganini not only has much less to forgive, but much more to be gained from it.

Just my two deutschmarks. (*hides behind special combat-grade flameproof armor*)

January 11, 2007 at 05:39 PM · Oh my. Have you heard/played/analyzed the Lohengrin prelude? Tannhauser? I’ll let that argument stand on its own.

Secondly, the Paganini reference was sarcastic, meant to poke fun at the disconnect between individual and art. I mean, yes, I do think the devil is available for the purchase of any a given soul (please, please note the sarcasm, somebody!l).

In any such case, social context must be taken into consideration. Wagner certainly wasn’t the only anti-Semite to have lived, nor do I think he was the biggest and most influential (ahem…Mr. Hitler?). Sure his music was adapted by the Nazi regime, but so was Beethoven and R. Strauss’s works. This isn’t to say that the Nazi’s have that keen of a musicological understanding, but I have to say that I like Beethoven too.

Things were different back then, and the issue of anti-Semitism extends way back to the conception of Christianity. All through history there has been tension and rift, and such discrimination is a social phenomenon, one based on difference in faith and education.

Are we going to stop listening or playing Chopin nocturnes as well? I mean, they’re so pretty, so tightly composed, so great for piano technique, colorful, but its creator was also a raging anti-Semite. No more funeral marches? What about Orff’s Carmina Burana? I mean, it was written FOR the Nazis, and now it’s in Michael Jackson DVD intros (okay, bad example) and all over car commercials.

Just because Wagner elaborated on his ideology on paper in conjunction to his music doesn’t mean he was the only one who felt this way in Europe, and if putrid ideology must be associated with a person’s work, shouldn’t this be applied to everyone? God forbid any letters turn up saying Shostakovich was actually a Communist in spirit (I would die from within). A bulk of Heine’s poetry illustrates and pokes fun at this unfortunate discrimination way back in the day, and needless to say, perhaps society functions too introspectively, without enough periphery or foresight, and can only develop and turn over slowly in the embrace of new ideas of tolerance and acceptance.

I agree that Wager has drawn such attention to himself for obvious reasons – he can’t help but stick his foot in his mouth because he’s that into himself and his own thoughts. But this is how we’re looking at it today, when political correctness is ever so prevalent despite an idiot of a leader in our country. I sincerely believe at least half of Europe have thought Wagner’s thoughts back then, but most weren’t talented enough to be placed in the limelight. And also, isn’t this whole controversy a testament to how affective Wagner’s music is? Its depth and emotionality (even in the most long-winded passages, Maura ; ), can hurt so much and so effectively and affectively even today, while every good Jewish boy learns Chopin etudes at the beckoning of their good Jewish mothers. Doesn’t this say something about Wagner’s pompous and long-winded music?

(hides behind my own bullet proof shield).

January 11, 2007 at 05:46 PM · excellent post, daring to say it and say it well.

i wonder, in the historical backdrop you have illustrated, what is your reaction to the current bunch of "white men" in europe?

January 11, 2007 at 05:49 PM · Well said Eric, you make a persuasive argument. Let's face it, it's all about propaganda and media. The more something is publicized, the more it is scrutinized. One thinks of "Nazi's music" and thinks "Wagner" becuase of what is written about it. Same with this Vienna story- it's publicized, so the public is able to follow everything. 100 years ago, everything was private so there was less to dramatize. I guess the moral of this story is: where music is, so goes politics.

I have to agree with Maura though. I actually do like Wagner, for a certain amount of time. However, I don't think I'm going to be going to Bayreuth any time soon to see the whole Ring production (I think they're mounting a new one in 2008). Then again, I wouldn't see 24 hours of anything, not even my favorite movie, Lord of the Rings (oh wait, isn't that....??) But his overtures are beautiful, particularly Tannhauser (I love the intro in the clarinet, horn, and bassoons. Too amazing for words)

January 11, 2007 at 06:00 PM · Good posts about this tempest in a pot of tea. Lord knows I have a healthy respect for who I am(my father is a rabbi) but I also recognize that some of the most important people who have influenced me and my thinking were rabid anti-semites--Voltaire, case in point! As a singer I sang a lot of Wagner--it fit me musically, I had the voice for it and as Nietzsche said about Wagner fortunately his artistic self is a lot greater than his piddling ugly personality. The same is true of the Vienna Phil.--would I knowingly patronize them--no but I certainly will listen to them--they have a great deal to teach me about music and if they start listening to the subtexts of the music they play they have a great deal to teach themselves as well. As for the unrepentant members of the VPO--they will get to reap the rewards of their ugliness. What goes around....

I learned alot from Karajan too, sometimes it was what NOT to do with the music.

January 11, 2007 at 06:14 PM · HAHA, sadly, it's not about Wagner himself but rather because I think his music is horrible to play. For that reason alone I would ban it, but then REPLACE it with more deserving music in the hearts of music lovers.

I think a lot of the public is misled about music and a lot of them are like "man, hardcore rocking out to Wagner man..." after a concert u know? But then I know a lot of guys who rock out to Mahler as well.


January 11, 2007 at 07:46 PM · "Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.

All art is at once surface and symbol.

Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.

All art is quite useless."

Oh, Oscar Wilde ; ) .

January 11, 2007 at 08:23 PM · haha, my favorite gay!

January 11, 2007 at 08:20 PM · It's always hilarious for me to see how quickly people fall over themselves to declare how sickening and terrible Nazis were (which I don't fault you for), for fear of somehow being considered a sympathizer. However, most often than not, these are some of the most blithely ignorant people on the face of the earth with respect to todays genocides and pretty much anything that isn't splattered on CNN.

I think banning Wagner is such ignorant book burning sophistry. You should consider destroying all Strauss then too, and maybe even throw in Bruckner. Bruckner's music was also used a lot by the SS, and a favourite of Mengele's. There's even a fairly famous picture of Hitler reverently surveying his bust at Walhalla.

If you are going to be reviled by anti simites like Wagner, who, incidentally are so incredibly far removed historically from Nazism, then you should probably ignore the work of almost any person ever. Why? Because social movements or longstanding hatred was everywhere during all times. If someone wasn't part of a society that despised Jews, like Austrians were, then they were probably part of a society with a substantial colonial empire, which did things often as horrible as the atrocities in the holocaust.

Please everyone, keep the damnations to yourselves if the only "historical" book you've ever read was the Da Vinci code. I'll listen to people's problems with Wagner who actually have a minute respect for history, and an iota of insight.

January 11, 2007 at 08:29 PM · (Edit: dammit, interrupted again! I'm replying to Eric.)

Nice quote. :)

Some more food for thought: you mentioned Chopin as another example of a flaming anti-semite in music, but there is (at least to my mind) a difference between the two of them. Chopin was a strict classicist when it came to his concept of music: he detested the Romantic notions so in fashion then, and along with Brahms and Joachim believed that music should be purely music, abstract, absolute, with no greater philosophical Meaning or programmatic content or bombastic story-telling. (Odd that he should then have been such good friends with Liszt, but hey, opposites attract.) Wagner, on the other hand, was one of those newfangled Music-of-the-Future, Weimar radicals who wanted to create a great transcendent synthesis of music, art, poetry and philosophy, each informing the other and all melded into a big monumental whole. So in that way, Wagner quite deliberately incorporated his Nieszchean ideals and strange megalomaniacal concepts right into his music, as part of his artistic philosophy--something the classicist Chopin would never have dreamed of doing.

Incidentally, I think I may have been a bit harsh on Wagner in my previous posting--he HAS written some absolutely glorious music, no doubt about that. He's just also written a lot of music I personally just can't stand, philosophy aside.

January 11, 2007 at 08:53 PM · They played the opening of Bruckner's 7th symphony when they broadcast that Hitler was dead. I hope they don't ban Bruckner...

I happen to think Bruckner was the greatest symphonist since Beethoven and has yet to be surpassed, though I don't think Bruckner was an anti-semite

January 11, 2007 at 09:05 PM · Marty, what particular reason do you have to believe that Bruckner was not an anti semite?

People seem to have this idea that anti semitism was some obscure, underground sentiment. Wake up people: it was everywhere throughout Germany and Austria. In fact, there are some places where it persists quite strongly.

PS. I do agree with you on the quality of his music, however.

January 11, 2007 at 09:13 PM · Were I to eschew every anti-semite from the world literature that I partake of I would likely lose many of the most meaningful experiences of my life. Art does exist ina dimension removed from the artists who create it--it goes on to have a separate life of its own.

January 11, 2007 at 09:17 PM · Precisely Jay. And I will see your anti semite and raise you colonialists and nationalists.

January 11, 2007 at 10:17 PM · Before this spirals out of control, please explain what exactly you mean by "nationalist". I've noticed that that particular word means something different to everyone who says it--some use it to mean "patriot", others mean "fascist" or "racist", and it can mean anything in between. I've seen the word "nationalist" start some very ugly arguments based on misunderstandings, so please clarify. :)

January 11, 2007 at 11:15 PM · ::falls over himself::

oh my, Dalton... Bruckner?

January 11, 2007 at 11:30 PM · "Art does exist ina dimension removed from the artists who create it"

It's nothing unique to art. I already said that. And you can't allow it to mean anything is permissible. If the inventor of the transistor was a racist (it's debated) it doesn't mean you avoid things with transistors in them. But would you commission something from them? Or would you hire him? You'd weigh everything carefully. And, what this started about, what about the policies of an institution?

January 11, 2007 at 11:44 PM · Maura,

This isn't a place for political discussion, and I won't take the risk of digressing any further. I'm simply stating that people are quite selective and self serving when it comes to declaring which composers are not fit to listen to because their ideals.

I will say that nationalism is a negative force in so far as it has caused the widespread suffering of those not included under its tenants. The rest doesn't really matter and is not relevant to this discussion.

January 11, 2007 at 11:53 PM · OK, point taken. Apologies for almost starting an irrelevant tangent (though I might point out that we've been on a tangent for a good 2/3 of this thread anyway...) :)

January 11, 2007 at 11:59 PM · I was unfortunate enough to read Wagner's whole autobiography. What an extemely odd personality to say the least, antisemitism not being the only ugly of his attributes. I still have no idea how his personality and his music go to together.

And yet we should all try to use comparable standards. If we consider it acceptable refusing to listen to Vienna Philharmonics or Wagner's music it's perfectly ok as long as we do not refuse e.g. admitting and reading contributions to this forum by members who elected GWB. No double standards please.

Also, as long as we handle it as our private matter who we ban and who not it's fine. When publishing our convictions e.g. in the internet, however, shouldn't we rethink first whether our own, very personal behaviour and decisions in moral matters still entitle us to impose our opinion onto others?


January 11, 2007 at 11:56 PM · Going back to the original topic at hand...:)

I have heard San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, Cleveland (almost weekly), Boston, Philly, New York, Concertgebouw, Vienna, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Boston Pops, among others. There were two orchestras that stood out as head and shoulders above the others: Cleveland and Royal Concertgebouw. Cleveland's blend of taste, precision, and unified string sound and Concertgebouw's flowing, energized and pinpoint clarity put these two ensembles into a tier of their own. I have been sorely disappointed by New York and Boston, and Baltimore and San Francisco didn't do it for me either. Detroit was remarkably clean, and Los Angeles has a HUGE sound. I've seen Vienna in Cleveland now a couple times in the last 6-7 years, and interestingly enough, I only enjoyed their encores each concert(Verdi one night and Strauss prior).

Of course, there are many hard-working so-called second and third tier ensembles that bear mentioning.

January 12, 2007 at 12:16 AM · I tend to agree with Andrew on all of the above. I have been fortunate enough to see San Francisco perform Mahler 5 in Severance Hall. While they were able to express the grandness of the work, I felt they sacrificed some of their precision and blend for an extravagant and mind-blowing performance (this is not neccessarily bad, I usually prefer less-accurate but exciting performances, probably dwelling from the fact that I am less than accurate often). However, some of their recordings that I have heard have been breathtaking- Michael Tilson Thomas is one of the seven wonders of the conducting world. I find New York to sometimes be a little bit cold, but this is partially because I've only seen them once live and the other times have been on camera, which does not do justice for any orchestra. I still think my top 10 are (in no order):

Berlin, Vienna, Royal Concertgebouw, Cleveland, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston

January 12, 2007 at 01:41 AM · FMF - two things, first there's no double standard, because your two examples are unrelated things. You're saying the equivalent of "You can't criticize the V.Phil because you have bad choice in clothes." Or bad choice in local city politicians, etc.

Second, we don't have to make correct choices, much less only correct choices, before we can be permitted to criticize others. No one would be worthy to critcize then anything, right?

You're smarter than that.

P.S. too, we don't "impose," we hopefully persuade.

January 12, 2007 at 12:36 AM · FMF, as I understand it, we have just been expressing our own personal opinions, it's not been our intent to make great huge sweeping pronouncements (although Wagner is one topic that can make people do that...:) ) about Absolute Right and Absolute Wrong. Also, I can see your point about double standards, but there is also a magnitude issue--sure, none of us are angels, but I doubt that any of us here are as reprehensible as Wagner. At least, I hope not. :)

As for orchestras, no-one's mentioned the Budapest Festival Orchestra yet?! :)

January 12, 2007 at 12:55 AM · What are they guilty of? :D

January 12, 2007 at 01:31 AM · Not getting the recognition they deserve? :)

January 12, 2007 at 03:06 AM · I've never read that Bruckner was an anti-semite. Can you site your sources so I may research it myself? Thanks.

January 12, 2007 at 03:34 AM · "While Richard Wagner lived decades before the birth of Nazism, his influence on the National Socialist movement and especially on its leader was enormous. In a tractate, Das Judenthum in der Musik, first published in 1850 under a pseudonym in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, Wagner wrote that Jewish music is bereft of all expression, characterized by coldness and indifference, triviality and nonsense. The Jew, he claimed, has no true passion to impel him to artistic creation. The Jewish composer, according to Wagner, makes a confused heap of the forms and styles of all ages and masters. To admit a Jew into the world of art results in pernicious consequences. In Deutsche Kunst und Deutsche Politik, Wagner spoke of the "harmful influence of Jewry on the morality of the nation," adding that the subversive power of Jewry stands in contrast to the German psyche.

All these ideas, together with the ultranationalistic character of his operas, especially "The Ring," provided a fertile feeding ground for Nazi ideology and cultural conception."

These words were written about Wagner by Lili Eylon. It should be obvious how victims of anti-semitism might react when confronted with Wagner's music, especially in Israel shortly after the holocaust. It is difficult to understand how anyone can be so insensitive as to belittle the feelings of a people who are repulsed by such obvious symbols of their repression.

January 12, 2007 at 04:13 AM · Thematically speaking, I think they are guilty of speaking german it seems. hahaha

eeehhh, bad joke

January 12, 2007 at 05:02 AM · There may be some thematic confusion here, but I would like to emphatically point out that, as of 1848, they do NOT speak German in Budapest...

January 12, 2007 at 07:11 AM · Jim,

in moral matters any two things are always unrelated unless our own morality relates them. It's always convinient not to relate things since it gives us the feeling of superiority.

So, when you say things are not related you just uncover your own morality (which isn't necessarily bad or good).


January 12, 2007 at 07:59 AM · FMF - Martin Luther King righted a great wrong, and also cheated on his wife. Those two things aren't unrelated because it's convenient. They're unrelated because they're unrelated.

But to get back to your thing, likewise you can criticize the Vienna Phil and still read posts from somebody who voted for GWB :)

January 12, 2007 at 01:46 PM · Most interesting discussion. Given the changing demographics of the pool of talents in strings, how long can Vienna Phil maintain all for, by, or of white male? Reminds me of the early sports franchises in the US. Didn't teams refusing to take African American players lose out? Or not?


January 12, 2007 at 01:59 PM · Hi,

Wagner's attack is also motivated by professional reasons as his attack against jewish musicians is directly aimed at his competing circle: the Brahms-Joachim-Mendelssohn group, all of whom were Jewish. That doesn't make it right, but it's part of it.

Right and wrong choices are hard to define. Choices mostly have consequences, and perception of someone's choice is hard to define... In the end, only one law of choice making survives though: you cannot make a wrong to make a right. That inevitably backfires. And you cannot makeup for a wrong through a right. It is too late. Seems to be cosmic laws somehow.

Regardless of political factors, I still have to say the performances of the Vienna Phil under Maazel that I saw at the Grosses Festpielhaus is Salzburg in 1996 ranks as the greatest orchestral playing I have heard live. To this day, I still treasure this performance. And curiously, it wasn't until days later when someone asked if I had noticed something unusual about the orchestra and said no, that they mentioned is was all-male. I had not noticed. I guess I was too busy listening.


January 12, 2007 at 04:01 PM · One correction--Brahms was not Jewish--I would love to be able to take credit but he is not part of the tribe--lol--I suspect had he been his relationship to the Schumann's would not have existed since I believe they were also not overly fond of Jews.

This whole argument has to be looked at in its own time--which was a period of time when antisemitism lurked not terribly below the surface ofm most of the society. Indeed, given the tenor of the times it is amazing that any Jewish musicians were able to make a mark at all.

January 12, 2007 at 04:29 PM · Not to put to fine a point on Jay's point, but practically the only Jews who really were able to make their mark at that time and place were the converts -- e.g., Mendelsohn, Joachim, Mahler, Landowska, Schoenberg (although late in life he converted back) -- and only because they converted. Only beginning the early part of the 20th century did Jews who had not converted began to attain the highest reaches of the profession.

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