By Ricky O’Bannon
Classical music is not easily quantified.
And not without good reason. A beautiful violin sonata or exhilarating symphony finale are much better described in subjective qualitative terms than some scientific measurement.
But numbers can occasionally provide context for ongoing conversations in classical music or highlight trends – such as how often music by female composers is performed – that might not have otherwise been noticed.
To explore those trends, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra gathered data on the 2014-15 seasons that have been programmed by 21 major American orchestras. The orchestras were selected based on size and operating budget.
We created a database with most concerts and pieces — excluding pops or family concerts — that these orchestras will play during the coming season. For those pieces performed, the data tracks the number of performances a given piece will receive, the composer, a piece’s composition date, soloists, the composer’s nationality, gender and whether the composer is living.
During the next few weeks, we will publish a series of stories and analysis revealing the trends we’ve spotted, including the most performed pieces of music and what the gender gap in female composers means.
For now, here are some of the initial findings from the data we analyzed:
- Collectively, the 21 orchestras will perform more than 1,000 different pieces in part or full by 286 different composers a total of almost 4,600 times.
- 9.5% of all pieces performed are written since the year 2000.
- The average date of composition of a piece performed during the year is 1886.
- A little more than 11% of the works performed are from composers who are still living.
- Female composers account for only 1.8% of the works performed. When only looking at works from living composers, they account for 14.8%
- German composers account for more than 23% of the total pieces performed, followed by Russians (19%) and Austrians (14% — in large part due to Mozart).
- American composers made up less than 11% of the pieces performed. When looking at only works by living composers, however, they account for more than 54%
More from Orchestra Season by the Numbers series:
- The orchestras included are the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Houston Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, San Diego Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony and Utah Symphony – Utah Opera.
- The programs and repertoire included are from the 2014-2015 season as listed on each orchestra website and literature 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.
- Gala concerts, touring, chambers series, pops and family concerts are included but are in a separate category from the main classical programs. The infographic and initial findings calculations excludes these concerts.
- 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.
- Additionally, pops and family concerts listings are not extensive, as full program repertoire is often not included online for these concerts.
- 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, but the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will perform the 1919 version and the St. Louis Symphony will perform the 1945 version for ballet and orchestra, which is included in the composition date for those entries.
- In most cases, composition date information comes from the International Music Score Library Project / Petrucci Music Library.