World’s Best 10 Symphony Orchestras in Classical Music

Gramophone magazine released the results of the polls conducted among a panel of renowned music critics for the world’s best symphony orchestras in classical music. Factors considered in the deliberations were concert performances, recording output, contributions made to both local and national communities, and the ability of their music to maintain its iconic status despite the emerging popularity of mainstream music.

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Here is the list of the world’s best orchestras in classical music:

Royal Concertgebouw (Gramophone #1)

Royal Concertgebouw
Royal Concertgebouw – Founded in 1888

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of the Netherlands is based at the Royal Concertgebouw concert hall in Amsterdam.

It takes the number one spot because of its ability to bring any listener to a special place each time they play their music.

The symphony was designated as “Royal” by Queen Beatrix. The Concertgebouw (concert venue) receives about 740,000 visitors each year.

The orchestra is well-known for premiering many of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies.

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (Gramophone #2)

Berlin Philharmonic
Berlin Philharmonic – Founded in 1882

The Berlin Philharmonic, often known as Die Berliner Philharmoniker, is a world-class orchestra situated in Germany.

They have received numerous prizes, including multiple Classical Brit Awards, Grammy Awards, Gramophone Awards, the ECHO, the ICMA, and the Platinum Stamp from Opera International Magazine.

The orchestra stated in 2008 that they would be constructing a Digital Concert Hall where they would perform. The digital hall allows spectators from all around the world to see the Philharmonic’s performances, which have featured many of the world’s top violinists throughout the years.

This Orchestra is one of the few orchestras that have a very distinct sound.

Vienna Philharmonic (Gramophone #3)

Vienna Philharmonic
Vienna Philharmonic – Founded in 1842

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is housed at the Musikverein in Vienna, Austria.

Their sound is unique because they tune their instruments at a different pitch than most other major orchestras.

All of the musicians’ instruments are made in Vienna, giving them a unique and highly-accomplished take on classical music.

This is an orchestra that plays the most concerts but there are hits and misses because of the different conductors that lead the group. With the right conductor, this can be the best.

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London Symphony Orchestra (Gramophone #4)

London Symphony Orchestra
London Symphony Orchestra – Founded in 1904

The London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) is based at Barbican Centre in London, UK.

The LSO is one of the world’s most recorded orchestras. The orchestra has played on some of the best movie soundtracks of all time, like Star Wars: The Movie and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The LSO was the first British orchestra to play overseas.

For many years they did not allow women to join the LSO for fear it would make them sound bad.

This is an orchestra that is known for its impressive work ethic aside from its snappy style and excellent precision.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Gramophone #5)

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Orchestra – Founded in 1891

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) is one of America’s “Big Five”. It is known for its annual performances at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, Illinois.

It is the only major symphony orchestra in the United States to have a training orchestra for up-and-coming players.

Every year, the symphony holds a fundraising marathon known as the Chicago Symphony Marathon, The Symphonython, and the Radiothon.

The CSO has received 62 American Orchestras Grammy Awards.

This orchestra is famous for its gleaming brass sound.

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (Gramophone #6)

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra – Founded in 1949

The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (BRSO) is based in Munich, Germany.

BRSO’s primary concert venues are the Philharmonie of the Gasteig Cultural Centre and the Herkulessaal in the Munich Residenz.

The Orchestra is a class on its own as it is considered very brilliant and an orchestra without any weakness.

They can both go to contemporary and classical music.

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Cleveland Orchestra (Gramophone #7)

Cleveland Orchestra
Cleveland Orchestra – Founded in 1918

The Cleveland Orchestra is housed at the Severance Hall in Ohio.

It has more than 100 members each season, and members actually come from all over the world, including China, Korea, Japan, Israel, Romania, Taiwan, and more.

The Orchestra is said to be America’s European orchestra as this is acclaimed as the Concertgebouw and Vienna Philharmonic in one.

It is part of the top 10 because of how refined their tone is, with perfect intonation, and absolute warmth when they perform.

Los Angeles Philharmonic (Gramophone #8)

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic – Founded in 1919

The Los Angeles Philharmonic (LA Phil) often plays in southern California cities, including San Diego, Palm Springs, Costa Mesa, and Santa Barbra. Its primary concert venues are the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl in California.

The LA Phil is known for its forward-thinking, innovative, and adventurous symphony pursuits.

Gustavo Dudamel is the chief conductor and music director of the LA Phil. He has hosted a radio program called At Home with Gustavo.

This orchestra is also known for how beautifully they play both classical and contemporary music.

Budapest Festival Orchestra (Gramophone #9)

Budapest Festival Orchestra
Budapest Festival Orchestra – Founded in 1983

The Budapest Festival Orchestra’s home is in Hungary. Ivan Fischer, the group’s founder, together with excellent musicians, creates beautiful music with passion and commitment.

They have received Gramophone awards and Grammy nominations.

The Orchestra’s members are drawn from the country’s best up-and-coming young musicians.

Each year they give two free weeks of concerts to nursing homes, churches, and children’s villages. They often play for young audiences.

The orchestra runs its own festival called the Bridging Europe festival which focuses on a different nation’s culture each year.

Dresden Staatskapelle (Gramophone #10)

Staatskapelle Dresden - Founded in 1548
Staatskapelle Dresden – Founded in 1548

The Staatskapelle Dresden is housed at the Semperoper in Dresden, Saxony.

The orchestra has been around since the 1500s and performs 250 ballets and operas each season.

They are the official patron orchestra of the Mettingpoint Music Messiaen.

This orchestra is popular for having its own distinct sound which makes it easily recognizable.

It plays music the way it should be: “a chamber-music quality” which simply put, is actively listening to what is going on around and relating how to react to that.

The World’s Best Orchestra from 20th to 11th Place:

Boston Symphony Orchestra (Gramophone #11)

Boston Symphony Orchestra - founded 1881
Boston Symphony Orchestra – founded 1881

The Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), founded in 1881, is one of the most famous orchestras. BSO has been recording since 1917 and performs up to 250 shows each year.

They are known for their renditions of the French repertoire and their contemporary music interpretations. The BSO is one of America’s “Big Five”.

A sophisticated and classy orchestra that provides the backbone for Tanglewood, one of the world’s best summer festivals.

Its recording of Peter Lieberson’s Neruda Songs, conducted by BSO music director James Levine, won the Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Recording in 2008.

New York Philharmonic (Gramophone #12)

New York Philharmonic
New York Philharmonic – Founded in 1842

The New York Philharmonic (NYPO), founded in 1842, is based at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ David Geffen Hall.

It is the US oldest operating orchestra. The NYPO is also one of America’s “Big Five,” which are the country’s top five orchestras.

They have received 19 Grammy Awards.

Every season, they reach approximately 50 million listeners. They have now played about 15,000 concerts and have approximately 2,000 recordings.

The New York Philharmonic was run as a cooperative society for the first 25 years.
That is, the musicians managed themselves.

The North Korean administration invited the NYPO to play in Pyongyang in 2008.
This was the United States’ first significant visit to Korea since the Korean War.

San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (Gramophone #13)

Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall
Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall

The San Francisco Symphony (SFS) , founded  in 1911, is based in San Francisco, California. The orchestra has been based at the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley area since 1980.

Michael Tilson Thomas was appointed music director of the orchestra in 1995 and served until 2020, when Esa-Pekka Salonen took over.

The SFS has created a superbly polished, often theatrical sound under the meticulous leadership of its conductors.

The orchestra’s own SFS Media label has focused on an acclaimed Mahler symphony set and symphonic song-cycles.

In the last 26 years, the orchestra has received an Emmy Award and 15 Grammy Awards.

Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra (Gramophone #14)

Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra
Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra – Founded in 1783

The Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra (formerly known as the Kirov Orchestra), founded in 1783, is based in the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The orchestra is one of the oldest musical institutions in Russia.

The orchestra of the Mariinsky has grown from strength to strength because to the vision of artistic director Valery Gergiev, with recordings on Philips covering most of the core Russian ballet and opera repertoire.

Russian National Orchestra (Gramophone #15)

Russian National Orchestra - Founded in 1990
Russian National Orchestra – Founded in 1990

The Russian National Orchestra (RNO), founded 1990, is based in Moscow, Russian.

It was the first Russian orchestra to perform at the Apostolic Palace, Vatican and in Israel.

The Russian National Orchestra was voted one of the world’s greatest orchestras by a panel of international critics assembled by Gramophone in 2008.

The orchestra has received widespread and constant praise for its concerts as well as more than 60 recordings since its founding.

Philadelphia Orchestra (Honorable Mention)

Philadelphia Orchestra - Founded in 1990
Philadelphia Orchestra – Founded in 1990

The Philadelphia Orchestra, founded in 1900, is based in the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. The orchestra is one of America’s “Big Five”.

The Philadelphia Orchestra annually touches the lives of more than 1 million music lovers worldwide Through its live performances, publications, recordings, and broadcasts.

The orchestra was the first symphony orchestra to make electrical recordings (in 1925). It was the first orchestra to make a commercially sponsored radio broadcast (on NBC in 1929) and the first to appear on a television broadcast (on CBS in 1948).

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  1. Wow, what an informative and captivating article! As a lover of classical music, I found the breakdown of the world’s top 10 symphony orchestras absolutely fascinating. It’s clear that a tremendous amount of talent, dedication, and hard work go into creating such mesmerizing performances. This list gives me a great starting point to explore and appreciate the diverse and magnificent world of classical music. Thank you for sharing this incredible piece! Gary Ford

  2. Listers would be hard-pressed to ever find faults that merit significant distinction between the Berlin and Concertgebouw Orchestras! Both ensembles seem to enchant the eardrums as no other musicians can in this particular age!

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