Dec 30, 2015

Each year, a mountain of new music is written and performed. In the 2015-2016 season alone, 89 American symphony orchestras will premiere almost 140 new pieces.

But after their premiere and that new-work-smell starts to wear off, this new music will join a crowded classical canon, looking for champions and audiences to help it find a place in the symphonic repertoire. Some new music might catch on quickly, but classical history is also rife with stories of works that took decades or even longer to find a niche in orchestral programs.

There are plenty of theories as to why some music finds an audience and some doesn’t, but to help understand what newer music is catching on, we’ve compiled a list of all pieces written in roughly the last 45 years that will be performed this season by three or more orchestras of the 89 sampled. Eligible pieces were written between 1970 and 2014.

Jennifer Higdon’s blue cathedral was at the top of the list, and will be performed by six separate orchestras a total of 18 times. John Adams had three works on the list with Short Ride in a Fast Machine, Harmonielehre and The Chairman Dances.

Below is the full list in infographic form, and below that is further information on the pieces featured included performance details.

New To Canon Infographic

Featured Works Notes

blue cathedral by Jennifer Higdon

  • Listen here
  • Premiered in 2000 by The Curtis Institute of Music
  • Performed this season by Boston Symphony Orchestra (cond. Stéphane Denève), Dallas Symphony Orchestra (cond. Nicholas Carter), Hartford Symphony (cond. Carolyn Kuan), Knoxville Symphony Orchestra (cond. Eckart Preu), New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (cond. Jacques Lacombe) and Spokane Symphony (cond. Eckart Preu)

The Chairman Dances by John Adams

  • Listen here
  • Premiered in 1986 by Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Piece is orchestral music reworked from Nixon in China, which was premiered in 1986 by Houston Grand Opera.
  • Performed this season by Hawaii Symphony Orchestra (cond. Michael Stern), Kansas City Symphony (cond. Michael Stern), Knoxville Symphony Orchestra (cond. Jacomo Rafael Bairos), Los Angeles Philharmonic (cond. Edo de Waart), Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (cond. Edo de Waart) and National Symphony Orchestra (cond. Sarah Hicks)

Harmonielehre by John Adams

  • Listen here
  • Premiered in 1985 by San Francisco Symphony
  • Performed this season by Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (cond. John Adams), Chicago Symphony Orchestra (cond. De de Waart), Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (cond. Carlos Miguel Prieto), Louisville Orchestra (cond. Teddy Abrams), Omaha Symphony (cond. Andrew Grams), San Diego Symphony (Edo de Waart)

Short Ride in a Fast Machine by John Adams

  • Listen here
  • Premiered in 1986 by Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
  • Performed this season by Eugene Symphony (cond. Marin Alsop), Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra (cond. Courtney Lewis), Phoenix Symphony (cond. Tito Muñoz), Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (cond. Giancarlo Guerrero), Richmond (cond. Steven Smith)

Mothership by Mason Bates

  • Listen here
  • Premiered in 2011 by YouTube Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas
  • Performed this season by Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (cond. Marin Alsop), Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (cond. Miguel Harth-Bedoya), Louisville Orchestra (cond. Teddy Abrams), National Symphony Orchestra (cond. Sarah Hicks)

The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires by Astor Piazzolla

  • Listen here
  • Performed this season by Columbus Symphony (cond. Rossen Milanov), Orchestra Iowa (Violin soloist/leader Lara St. John), Florida Orchestra (Violin soloist/leader Lara St. John) and Hawaii Symphony Orchestra (cond. JoAnn Falletta)

Violin Concerto No. 1 by Philip Glass

  • Listen here
  • Premiered in 1987 by American Composers Orchestra
  • Performed this season by Dallas Symphony Orchestra (cond. Simone Young ; Karen Gomyo on violin), Louisville Orchestra (cond. Teddy Abrams) and Virginia Symphony Orchestra (cond. Joann Falletta, Vahn Armstrong on violin)

Rainbow Body by Christopher Theofanidis

  • Listen here
  • Premiered in 2000 by Houston Symphony
  • Performed this season by Florida Orchestra (cond. Stuart Malina), Greenville (cond. Edvard Tchivzhel), Colorado Springs Philharmonic (cond. Josep Caballe-Domenech)

Concerto for Water Percussion and Orchestra by Tan Dun

  • Listen here
  • Premiered by New York Philharmonic
  • Performed this season by Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (cond. John Storgårds, Christopher Lamb on percussion), Naples Philharmonic (cond. Andrey Boreyko, Colin Currie on percussion) and Eugene Symphony (cond. Daniel Rachev, Pius Cheung on percussion)


  • 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.