Appreciating a great Orchestra
What makes one orchestra different from another? Well, about the same thing that makes a Laphroaig whisky different from a Balvenie: nuances of flavor, colour, depth. The first thing you’ll notice about a great ensemble is the quality of blend – most noticeable in the way the strings knit together (or don’t). Then, think about individual sections : is the brass heavy, or more focused? Is the woodwind warm or do they play with a bit more bite? Different countries have different musical traditions, which accounts for the pumped-up brass sound of an American orchestra, and the dark, almost tannic tone of Russian strings. Everyone’s got their favourites. Here are ten of the world’s best:
1/ Berlin Philharmonic …, the Liverpool-born Simon Rattle, calls the sound of the Berliners “a real “…” sound that starts underneath, a deep bass-up sound”. Best heard in the Philharmonie concert hall.
2/ Royal Concertgebouw, Amsterdam Voted the world’s best in 2008 by a panel of critics for Gramophone magazine; its principal conductor is the mighty Latvian, Mariss Jansons.
3/ Budapest Festival Orchestra Ivan Fisher’s ensemble turns tradition on its head, forcing you to hear standard works anew.
4/ Chicago Symphony Orchestra The best of the American tradition: terrific attack, a mighty brass section and muscular strength from the strings.
5/ Staatskapelle Dresden Think of them as the yin to the Berlin yang: sweet, supple, deliciously creamy playing. Your go-to band for Richard Strauss.
6/ Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, London Uses older instruments appropriate to the era of the music they choose, and hosts a fantastic late-evening concert series called the Night Shift.
7/ Mariinsky Theatre Symphony, Saint Petersburg Maestro Valery Gergiev has dominated and refined this orchestra for decades. Dark, Slavic and sumptuous.
8/ The London Symphony Orchestra Based at the Barbican in the City of London, and as compelling in 20th-century Modernism as it is in the grand tradition.
9/ Les Musiciens du Louvre A “period” band founded by the conductor Marc Minkowski that honours the French love of orchestral effects and rhythmic freedom.
10/ The Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra These Venezuelans, products of one of the most radical education programmes, have played together since they were kids – its shows.
Choons – An esquire guide