Crunching the Musical Numbers Part II

I love classical music and I love a good spreadsheet. And I can’t wait to hear live music next season. Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve discovered that most orchestras stuck pretty close to the tried and true for the upcoming season. Instead of leveraging pent up demand and slipping in more new or diverse works, they seem to be dying to trot out the old warhorses after the year without music. But, since I don’t have historical data, I don’t know if that is really the case. What I do know is that the data sure seems to indicate that they are playing it safer than they need to.

The following data is based on published seasons for 19 major U.S. orchestras. If you want to know more about that, click here. Keep in mind that when I talk about a “work”, I’m not talking about a unique work. When it shows below that Beethoven has 77 works programmed, that’s not 77 different works. If you want to read more about the data, click here.

Composer Jessie Montgomery. With 10 works programmed she ties for most works for a woman and most for a composer of color. She also ties for 2nd for American composer and living composer, second only to John Adams.
Warhorses Dominate the Top 42

Since there was an 11-way tie for number 17, I couldn’t cut the list off at 20. And because there was a 15-way tie for number 28, I couldn’t stop at 30, and because there was a 44-way tie for 43, couldn’t stop at 50. So, behold the top 42 works programmed next season. (The first number indicates the number of times programmed.)

Perhaps not surprisingly, but also surprisingly, Samuel Barber is the only American to make it into the top 42. In fact, the top 42 spots representing 233 concert slots are shared by only 18 composers. That’s 21% of 1,105 works. Even if you only wanted to stick to dead Europeans, surely there could be more diversity at the top? Wouldn’t it be more interesting?

If I had pulled the list down to three works programmed, that list of 44 at least gets us five composers who are still alive, not to mention some composers of color and some women. The living, composers of color, and women do fare much better in my break down of composers.

10 – TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 5
08 – BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 3
08 – BRAHMS Symphony No. 1
08 – SIBELIUS Symphony No. 5
08 – SIBELIUS Violin Concerto
07 – BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4
07 – BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 5
07 – BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9
07 – DEBUSSY La mer
07 – PROKOFIEV Symphony No. 5
07 – TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 6
06 – MAHLER Symphony No. 1
06 – RAVEL La valse
06 – RAVEL Piano Concerto in G major
06 – TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No. 1
05 – BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 5
05 – BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 7
05 – BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto
05 – BRAHMS Serenade No. 2
05 – DEBUSSY Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
05 – Dvořák  Symphony No. 7
05 – Dvořák  Symphony No. 8
05 – Dvořák  Symphony No. 9
05 – NIELSEN Symphony No. 4
05 – RACHMANINOFF Piano Concerto No. 3
05 – RACHMANINOFF Symphonic Dances
05 – RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Scheherazade
05 – SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 10
04 – BARBER Symphony No. 1
04 – BEETHOVEN Leonore Overture No. 3
04 – BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 4
04 – BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastique
04 – BRAHMS Symphony No. 4
04 – Dvořák Symphony No. 6
04 – GRIEG Piano Concerto
04 – MAHLER Symphony No. 4
04 – MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto
04 – PROKOFIEV Romeo and Juliet Suite
04 – RACHMANINOFF Piano Concerto No. 2
04 – RAVEL Bolero
04 – SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Concerto No. 1
04 – STRAVINSKY Pulcinella Suite

Samuel Barber, the only American in the top 42
If you want to succeed as a composer you need to be dead and European

As with the most programmed works, this list of most programmed composers is not too surprising. Our first American and first living composer clocks in at 14, and our first composers of color and women come in at 10. It is also kind of interesting that it takes until the nine spot for a British composer to appear.

36 – STRAUSS, Richard
33 – RAVEL
29 – Dvořák 
16 – HAYDN
15 – SCHUMANN, Robert
14 – ADAMS, John – first living, first American
12 – Bartók 
10 – ELLINGTON – first composer of color (tie)
10 – MONTGOMERY, Jessie – first woman (tie), first composer of color (tie)
10 – PRICE, Florence – first woman (tie), first composer of color (tie)
09 – ELGAR – first British
09 – STILL, William Grant
09 – WALKER, George
08 – TOWER, Joan

07 – 7 composers
06 – 8 composers
05 – 6 composers
04 – 12 composers
03 – 24 composers
02 – 44 composers
01 – 150 composers

I’ve known the name Joan Tower for many years, but only listened to her for the first time while I was doing all this number crunching. I really like her work and can’t wait to see some live this year.
Composers I’m surprised only have one work programmed

Bernstein, Bizet, Holst, Janáček, Kodály, and Martinů.

Are there only two French composers?

Out of 81 works by French composers programmed, 33 are by Ravel, and 14 are by Debussy. The remaining 34 are shared by 20 others.

Works by composers born after 1960 that are getting the most play

Some of these composers are getting more play than what you see below. These are just the works that are programmed multiple times.

3 – Wynton MARSALIS, Fanfare
3 – Missy MAZZOLI, Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres)
3 – Jessie, MONTGOMERY, Banner
3 – Jessie, MONTGOMERY, Strum
3 – Carlos SIMON, Fate Now Conquers
3 – Joel THOMPSON, New Work (assuming these are all the same)
2 – Thomas ADES, Piano Concerto
2 – Kishi BASHI, Improvisations on EO9066 (being improv, not sure if this counts)
2 – Unsuk CHIN, Frontispiece
2 – Unsuk CHIN, Subito con Forza
2 – Anna CLYNE, Sound and Fury
2 – Valerie COLEMAN, Phenomenal Women
2 – Bryce DESSNER, Concerto for Two Pianos
2 – Missy MAZZOLI, Violin Concerto
2 – Brian NABORS, Pulse
2 – Nokuthula NGWENYAMA, Primal Message
2 – Kevin PUTS, The Brightness of Light

Famous Fives

Tchaikovsky x 10
Sibelius x 8
Beethoven x 7
Prokofiev x 7
Shostakovish x 3
Schubert x 2
Dvořák x 1
Mahler x 1
Mendelssohn x 1

Can I see all Mahler symphonies next year?

No. But close.

1 – Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, San Francisco
2 – National
3 – Atlanta
4 – Cincinnati, Los Angeles, National, Philadelphia
5 – San Francisco
6 – Seattle
7 – Los Angeles
8 – Minnesota
9 – Minnesota

Das Land ohne Musik?

Out of 51 works (only 4.6% of all works), the list of British composers is dominated by Elgar with nine works, followed by Britten, Anna Clyne, and Coleridge-Taylor with seven works each. With four works Thomas Ades beats out Vaughan Williams who ties with Hannah Kendall with three works. Elgar’s numbers are helped by his two concertos–three cello and two violin. The remaining four pieces are one each of Enigma, Sea Pictures, Serenade, and Symphony No. 1. The tragedy of Vaughan Williams low numbers is made worse by the fact that none of his symphonies are programmed just two Tallis Fantasia and one Lark. He needs a better publicist.

Sibelius gets a workout

Out of the 44 pieces by Finnish composers programmed, 32 of them (73%) are by Sibelius. This is helped out by the fact that the Minnesota Orchestra is having a bit of a Sibelius Festival in January and accounts for 13 of those 32. Saariaho makes a good showing at five works and Salonen comes in at two.

Opera without sets

I kind of like it when orchestras do concert versions of operas. I’m not a big fan of how orchestras sound in the pit. Then tend to come off as tinny. Maybe it’s the scaled down size that contributes to this. But up on stage with a full symphony orchestra? Better eat your Wheaties singers.

BEETHOVEN, Fidelio – Los Angeles Philharmonic
BERG, Wozzeck – Boston Symphony Orchestra
STRAVINSKY, Oedipus Rex – San Francisco Symphony
TCHAIKOVSKY, Eugene Onegin (complete) – Dallas Symphony Orchestra
VERDI, Aida (Act III) – Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
VERDI, Otello (complete) – Cleveland Orchestra
VERDI, Requiem – Seattle Symphony (I mean c’mon, how is it not an opera?)
WAGNER, Die Walküre (final scene) – Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Works I’m looking forward to most

These are the pieces that I am highly likely to hear next season that I am most excited about. In some cases it is purely about the work, in other cases it is the combo of the work and orchestra. (In alphabetical order by composer.)

Samuel BARBER, Toccata Festiva – Cleveland Orchestra
Ludwig von BEETHOVEN – Symphony No. 3 – Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Benjamin BRITTEN, Violin Concerto, National Symphony Orchestra
Anna CLYNE, Sound and Fury – San Francisco Symphony
Bryce DESSNER, Concerto for Two Pianos – National Symphony Orchestra
Charles IVES, From the Steeples and the Mountains – Cleveland Orchestra
Wynton MARSALIS, Violin Concerto – Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Jessie MONTGOMERY, Shift, Change, Turn and Variations – Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Arvo PART, Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten – National Symphony Orchestra
Charles RUGGLES, Angels – National Symphony Orchestra
Dimitri SHOSTAKOVICH – Symphony No. 15 – Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Gabriela SMITH, Organ Concerto – Los Angeles Philharmonic
William Grant STILL, Patterns – San Francisco Symphony
Richard STRAUSS – Also Sprach Zarathustra – Los Angeles Philharmonic
Joan TOWER – Cello Concerto – National Symphony Orchestra

These aren’t the only things I am hearing next season. Just the ones I am most looking forward to. If I made a wish list of concerts I would love to travel to but probably won’t be able to, that would be a whole ‘nother ballgame as they say.

7 thoughts on “Crunching the Musical Numbers Part II

  1. Michelle Ann August 1, 2021 / 5:15 am

    Here in Britain, Classic FM, the most popular classical music radio station, conducts a poll every year of the nation’s top 300 most popular pieces. Most of the composers shown above get a good showing, but to my surprise, Vaughan Williams’ ‘To a Lark Ascending’ came in at no1.


  2. Gail August 12, 2021 / 2:09 pm

    It’s the same with a Stones concert…just play the oldies that we all know and love.
    The Vancouver Symphony used to play a summer concert up in Whistler. The piano was brought in dangling from a helicopter to the mountain top venue. Hay bales were scattered everywhere and we all brought blankets and picnic baskets up on the ski lift. Such a great day listening to familiar beloved music.


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