Jan 7, 2016

All instruments in the orchestra get their chance to shine from time to time, but some get their moment in the sun more often than others.

The instruments at the top of the list (piano and violin) shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been to a few orchestra concerts, but their dominance in orchestral programming is notable. Almost 30% of all concerts feature a piano soloist, and more than 22% feature a violin soloist.

The next most represented solo instrument — cello — checked in with a 6.7% share of the concert season. While not statistically large, percussion (which included general percussion, timpani and named keyboard percussion instruments like vibraphone or xylophone) clocked in above all wind instruments and appears to have carved out a niche in orchestral programming owing in large part to concerti written in the last 50 years.

Data was collected from 89 American symphony orchestra concert listings and tracked any time a soloist was named in the program.

Instrumental Soloists (1)


  • Data was collected in August of 2015. Concert listings as well as orchestra group designations might have changed since then but were accurate as of that date.
  • The orchestras included were chosen as the 89 largest symphony orchestras in the U.S. as of August 2015 with membership in the League of American Orchestras.
  • Orchestras included are Alabama, Albany, Allentown, Arkansas, Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boise, Boston, Buffalo, Charleston, Cape, Charlotte, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Colorado Springs, Columbus, Dallas, Dayton, Delaware, Des Moines, Detroit, Eugene, Florida, Fort Wayne, Fort Worth, Grand Rapids, Greenville, Harrisburg, Hartford, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kalamazoo, Kansas City, Knoxville, Louisiana, Louisville, Los Angeles, Madison, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Mobile, Monterey, Naples, Nashville, National (DC), New Haven, New Jersey, New West, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma City, Oakland, Omaha, Orchestra Iowa, Oregon, Orlando, Pacific, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, Quad City, Reno, Rhode Island, Richmond, Rochester, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, Seattle, Spokane, Springfield (MA), St. Louis, Toledo, Tucson, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wichita, Winston-Salem, Youngstown.
  • The programs and repertoire included are from the 2015-2016 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. Gala concerts, touring, holiday concerts, 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.