Dec 3, 2015

The classical music world has a lot of conversations about what we do.

Is there enough music by living composers or female composers? Do we in the United States give American composers their due? Do orchestras play too many of the warhorses that have name recognition with their audience and overlook some great music either by lesser known composers or seldom-heard works that are deeper in a well known composer’s catalogue?

Often what’s missing from these discussions is data. Last year we tried to offer up some of those numbers to make those conversations more meaningful by collecting and categorizing all of the music that 22 of the largest American symphony orchestras were playing in the 2014-2015 classical season. This year, we hope to do the same with a bit of a twist.

This season we collected programming data for both major American symphonies as well as smaller regional orchestras — 89 in total — to give a more holistic view of symphonic repertoire in the United States.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be publishing several infographics that give a 10,000-foot view of the music being played this season as well as some deeper stories on numbers that popped up, but below are some initial numbers and observations.

Main 15 16 Graphic Final

  • Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms make up a little more than 18% of all music performed. That means that one out of over 5 1/2 pieces an orchestra performs will be by one of those composers.
  • Piano is featured as a soloist in almost 30% of all concerts, followed closely by violin at 22%.
  • A little over 9% of the music played this season was written in the year 2000 or later.
  • Music by living composers makes up about 12% of everything played this season. There is a 30% chance that any of the concerts represented in the data will have at least one piece by a living composer on its program.
  • Women composers make up less than 2% of all of the music performed. When only looking at works performed by living composers, female composers account for 14% of the repertoire.
  • All female composers in the data are also living composers


  • 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.