Stories The Data Behind the 2016-2017 Orchestra Season

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By Ricky O'Bannon
Oct. 31, 2016

Data can be a tool to advance a larger conversation by demonstrating a perceived trend is more than anecdotal, or it can just be admired by number wonks (like the author) for its ability to give shape with a bird's-eye view to the thousands of small decisions being made on a ground level.

During the past two orchestra seasons, we've collected data on the repertoire performed by American symphony orchestras as a way look collectively at the trend lines. The numbers tracked hope to respond to various debates already happening in the classical world: Do contemporary composers get a fair shake? How are we collectively doing to address the historic glass ceiling? Are certain American composers ignored by their country's orchestras?

This season we sorted through the classical season of 85 American symphony orchestras (check the methodology below for more details on what was included.) In addition to the music performed, we also noted conductors and featured instrumental soloists.

Over the next week, we'll publish four infographics looking at different subjects in the data. The first is below, or if you prefer, you can look through the full data set and see if your favorite composer or overlooked masterpiece gets the love and exposure you think it deserves.

Click here for full size graphic, might be easier for mobile users

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  • Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Brahms lead the pack by a large margin (as is tradition) and combine for 23% of all the music performed this season.
  • Steve Reich will celebrate his 80th birthday during the 2016-2017 season, which has resulted in his music being featured significantly more (9 different pieces in 16 total concerts) when compared to last season (1 piece in 1 concert.)
  • Piano is featured as a soloist in almost 30% of all concerts, followed closely by violin at just under 23%.
  • Music by living composers makes up a little more than 12% of everything played this season. There is a 29% chance that any of the concerts represented in the data will have at least one piece by a living composer on its program.
  • In addition to being by far the most-performed living composer, John Adams' music will be played more times this season than Leonard Bernstein, Hector Berlioz or Camille Saint-Saëns and has a wider range of pieces performed than Johannes Brahms, Sergei Prokofiev or Maurice Ravel.
  • Women composers make up 1.3% of all of the music performed. When only looking at works performed by living composers, female composers account for 10.3% of the repertoire (which is down from about 14% last season.)
  • Last year, all women composers represented in the data were also living composers. This season there are four historic (as in not-living) composers who will have a work performed: Ruth Crawford Seeger, Galina Ustwolskaja, Lili Boulanger (sister of famed Nadia Boulanger) and Marguerite Monnot who has a co-writing credit with Louis Guglielmi.
  • For all 85 included orchestras, women conductors will lead 8.8% of all concerts. However, there is a significant divide among the "major orchestras" and the medium and regional orchestras. Women will conduct 5.2% of the concerts for the 23 largest orchestras in the data, while the rest of the included symphonies more than double that rate with women conducting 12.8% of all concerts.

Methodology

  • Data was collected in July and August of 2016. Concert listings might have been updated since then but reflect original programming decisions by orchestra leaders. Similarly, concerts are included as originally announced, regardless of cancellations or work stoppages.
  • The 85 American orchestras included were chosen based on size criteria. Additionally so that orchestras are programming from the same repertoire, all included ensembles are symphony orchestras, which excludes chamber orchestras, period-focused historic ensembles or pops-focused ensembles.
  • Orchestras included are Alabama, Albany, Allentown, Arkansas, Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo, Cape, Charleston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Colorado, Colorado Springs, Columbus, Dallas, Dayton, Des Moines, Detroit, Eugene, Florida, Fort Wayne, Fort Worth, Grand Rapids, Greenville, Harrisburg, Hartford, Hawaii, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kalamazoo, Kansas City, Knoxville, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Louisiana, Louisville, Madison, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Mobile, Modesto, Naples, Nashville, National (DC), New Haven, New Jersey, New West, New York, North Carolina, Oakland, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Orchestra Iowa, Oregon, Orlando, Pacific, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, Quad City, Reno, Rhode Island, Richmond, Rochester, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, Seattle, Spokane, St. Louis, Toledo, Tucson, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wichita.
  • The programs and repertoire included are from the 2016-2017 season as listed on each orchestra website and brochures prior to the start of the season.
  • Calculations for the initial findings and infographic are weighed by the number of times a piece of music will be performed in concert.
  • Concerts data was collected from include subscription classical concerts, classical specials and new music series. Touring, holiday concerts, small ensemble or solo chambers series, pops and family concerts are excluded.
  • While technically touring, the Cleveland Orchestra’s concerts in Miami are included in the main classical programs as its performances in Miami are an annual part of its season.
  • To be included in any of the categories, concerts must use musicians from the listed orchestra.
  • Composer nationalities are based on information from the New Grove Encyclopedia of Music and Musicians as accessed through Oxford Music Online. When no entry exists for a living composer, nationality information comes from the best available biographical information usually from the composer’s website.
  • Composition date is based on the best available scholarship of the year in which a piece was completed.
  • Later revisions are not included in the composition date unless a concert program specifically denotes a different version of the original piece. For example, Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite was completed in 1910, some orchestras might specify they are performing the 1919 or 1945 versions, which is included in the composition date for those entries.
  • While composition date is based on the best known date of completion of a piece, for works premiered during the 2015-2016 season, the composition date reflects the premiere date.
  • In most cases, composition date information comes from the International Music Score Library Project / Petrucci Music Library.
  • Instrumental soloists were counted based on being named in orchestral programs. This includes visiting soloists as well as featured orchestra members and also includes both concerti and other symphonic works that have a featured soloist role (ex. Copland's Quiet City features a trumpet soloist.)
  • Conductor information was also taken from being listed in concert program info, and includes music directors, visiting guest conductors or associate/assistant conductors.