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Italian orchestras ‘are hardest working’

A survey by the Italian magazine Classical Voice maintains that Italian orchestras give more concerts than any other, and get the biggest audience.

It puts the Verdi Orchestra of Milan at the top of the world rankings with 154 concerts last year.

The Philharmonia in London came second with 146.

Santa Cecilia was third on 143.


verdi orch milan

As for audiences, Santa Cecilia reached audiences of 340,000, the Berlin Philharmonic 280,000, the Verdis of Milan 215,000.

One suspects these statistics could be disproved. Don’t hold back…


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  1. The Verdi orchestra is the orchestra used by my conducting class in Milano Conservatorio for students rehearsals. They are a great support for my class. They usually play 3 concerts a week, sometimes 4, so the statistic is believable.

  2. Forever Somerset says:

    They sounded pretty tired at their Prom in London.

  3. Emma McGrath says:

    I just counted up the number of concerts the Seattle Symphony are doing this season and came to the grand total of 157. Plus, this season doesn’t look as busy as previous seasons! I am counting the Seattle Opera performances as well (because the Seattle Symphony is the orchestra for that.) If I only counted purely orchestral performances then of course the tally would be less.

  4. David Boxwell says:

    Work less, play better. That’s always been my personal credo.

  5. Dear Norman,
    Excuse my comment and what might sound like a promotion for laVerdi, but, as you opened the door, and as their Principal Conductor, I can say without doubt that the hardest working orchestra, according to this study, is, like the other orchestras mentioned, a world class orchestra, and it says something about orchestras in Italy. LaVerdi has crafted its sound in the hall they own, the Auditorium di Milano, where we perform and record (most recently the Brahms Symphonies for Telarc) and that hall, like the orchestra, is for the people of Milan, by the people and of the people. Their outreach is outstanding. Their commitment to the community is incalculable. Thats why they make so many concerts.

    But perhaps, being an Italian orchestra LaVerdi is not recognized as much for symphonic output, as one expects opera from an Italian orchestra; but considering Chailly’s former directorship of the orchestra and the many great conductors who have worked with la Verdi, it’s understandable why they have in their short history one of the most concentrated repertoires of any orchestra. And as they play so many concerts, they perform this repertoire so much that they have developed their own sound and tradition. When I played the Brahms Piano Quartet (arr. Schoenberg) with them upon my debut in 2008, I was deeply impressed, despite their young age, by their musical maturity and virtuosity. The same could be said of any symphony we played from Tchaikovsky to Schumann to Mahler to Beethoven. Part of this is that they were created to provide a professional opportunity for the many wonderful musicians in this cultural capital so dominated by LaScala. They operate as a family, with none of the internal animosities often found in other orchestras. If family is the dominant quality of Italian culture, it is then not surprising to see that quality in the orchestra. As you and your readers know, I wrote a book about the anthropology of the orchestra, first released in German with the title: Wie Großartige Musik Ensteht…Oder Auch Nicht, which is now released as an ebook on naxosbooks, called The Symphony Orchestra in Crisis- A Conductor’s View

    While many cultures have their advantages, there is a reason why Italian orchestras continue to nurture conductors. And its not only 154 concerts. Its about family and tradition. Most Italian orchestras defy the stereotype of Italian chaos, as they are actually much more organized and professional than many would give them credit for, at least if one follows the idea that an orchestra reflects the politics of its culture. Italy has not had the most stable of governments since its unification but, after a Mussolini here and a Berlusconi there, it still remains the place where one can find the best conductors in the world, and some of the best orchestras. The list is long: Toscanini, de Sabata, Giulini, Abbado, Muti, Noseda, Luisi, Sinopoli, Gavazzeni, Gatti, Chailly, Pappano… And therefore, the quality of the orchestras is consistently good. Somehow the conductor tradition, while being defined by the Kleibers and Karajans of history, remains firmly established in bella Italia. Another likely influence is the fact that Italy is a lyrical culture and all the conductors from Italy have their roots in the theaters of Naples, Genoa, Rome, Bologna, Parma, Turin, Venice and, of course, Milan. The respect is great for the ancient traditions. It is the only country in the world where the orchestra still stands up for the entrance of the maestro at the first rehearsal. Maybe that’s why conductors like going there. And that is one reason why I like going there. LaVerdi is a great orchestra, where virtuosity and respect come first. Thank you for sharing their cause with your readers.

    • David Allsopp says:

      I agree. After seeing the obvious enthusiasm and genuine comradeship at the proms, as well as the sparkling playing of Verdi and Tchaikovsky, I invested in some of their Shostakovich cycle on DVD. Exceptional playing and such quiet and respectful audiences. I am a convert!

      PS – they did NOT seem tired!

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      I haven’t heard the Verdi orchestra live but based on seeing the Santa Cecilia and Scala orchestras in concert, I agree that Italian orchestras have become far better now than their traditional reputation.

      I still think it’s pretty odd though to name a symphony orchestra after a composer who wrote practically no symphonic or other purely orchestral music.

  6. I find this discussion somewhat strange. My own mid-sized orchestra in Germany always does at least 150, more often 165 performances per season (including opera and ballet, but hey, those are performances too of course). I suspect that this number is typical for a professional orchestra. Certainly the Verdi orchestra has every right to describe itself as hardworking. But: Who did the study? Who was invited to participate? If we are running numbers, isn’t the number of attendees at least as relevant as the number of performances? Hardworking is a good thing to be – but it is pretty much a given with orchestras and their musicians. What kind of work one does, and for which audiences, is the more important measure of true productivity.

  7. It seems that the survey has forgotten to take into account that several prominent European orchestras are working at the same time as full time opera orchestras. Likes of Wiener Philharmoniker, Staatskapelle Dresden, Staatskapelle Berlin, and probably the most prolific of all Mariinsky orchestra, spend most of their time in the orchestra pit, but also manage to give quite a large number of concerts in addition

    • “European orchestras” & “and probably the most prolific of all Mariinsky orchestra”: and since when Russia is an European country?

      • Since always. The Eastern borders of Europe are the Ural and Caucasus mountains. St. Petersburg is located to the west of Athens.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Bogda says:
      September 13, 2013 at 2:11 am

      “It seems that the survey has forgotten to take into account that several prominent European orchestras are working at the same time as full time opera orchestras. Likes of Wiener Philharmoniker, Staatskapelle Dresden, Staatskapelle Berlin, and probably the most prolific of all Mariinsky orchestra, spend most of their time in the orchestra pit, but also manage to give quite a large number of concerts in addition.”

      True, but you also have to take into account that all of the above a far bigger orchestras than the Verdi orchestra which lists about 85 permanent musicians on their website. The BP have 128 permanent positions, the SD, SB, WP each have around 140-150, the Gewandhausorchester over 180, and the Mariinsky even appear to have over 200 (I haven’t counted the exact number). So that means it is not that easy to compare their workload. Also, I don’t know how much of a budget the Verdi orchestra has to call in extras and substitutes which all of the above regularly do, plus some of the bigger German orchestras have academy programs where they have 2-4 young musicians for each instrument attached to the orchestra in a kind of internship/advanced studies program and these musicians also regularly help out in the orchestra.

      • Count the shifts for the individual player. The above mentioned orchestras accumulate 250 to 300 shifts in a season for each tutti player. Despite their size.

  8. Malcolm James says:

    If you do most of your work in the opera house you will repeat the same operas many times, meaning that you don’t have to rehearse in between. If you are constantly doing new programmes just once, you can’t do as many concerts.

  9. This survey doesn’t take into account how many musicians there are in the orchestra, and how many services each player has in a given year. All orchestras of this size rotate their players. 150 services (concert or opera or ballet or all three) per year for any German orchestral musician is par for the course. But hey, it doesn’t matter how many concerts the Verdi Orchestra has, now we all know that JA’s book is now available as an eBook with a much more arresting title…

    • 150 services is nothing. 250 to 280 services per tutti player per year are normal for orchestras that do concert and opera duty in parallel. Tours and recordings on top in some cases.
      The survey is just journalistic nonsense.

  10. The Italian text implies that the survey considered only European orchestras. I am pretty sure that some American orchestras would easily outdo the Verdi orchestra as most ‘hardest working’ band.

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