Surveying the Orchestra, 2016–17

I looked at 16 different orchestras in the San Francisco Bay Area to see what's being performed this year. Read my explanatory notes below, or go directly to the orchestras, composers, or works. For analysis, read my essay in VAN Magazine.

Why the survey?

What can listeners expect to hear, musicians expect to play, in one season? I thought it would be meaningful and useful to take a closer look at one area's collective 2016–17 season. I chose the San Francisco Bay Area for my survey because it's home not only to a major symphony orchestra, but also, to smaller orchestras located in areas both more- and less-populated than the city of San Francisco itself. It's also a locality that I’m personally invested in, as a performer who has played and watched colleagues and loved ones perform in the very concerts examined.

I have no background in statistics, but simply tried my best to accurately depict what's onstage this year in the place that I love to call home. If you would like to receive a copy of my 313-row Excel spreadsheet, ask a question, or notify me of an error, please contact me at rebecca {at} aesthesia {dot} space.

What’s included

I surveyed paid (though not all are union) orchestras that my colleagues routinely play in, including only concerts listed on these groups’ classical series (varyingly referred to as "Classics Season," "Classics," "Classical Concert Series," etc.). I excluded all other events, including pops concerts, holiday pops concerts, film scores, family concerts, and chamber music recitals; as well as galas and other special events with higher-than-normal ticket prices. Many groups have exciting programming in these areas, which I may analyze in the future, but inconsistencies in publicization make these types of events difficult to survey.

Works

In a few cases, works programmed for the coming months have either not been selected or are not specified in program descriptions. These cases include Symphony Silicon Valley's June 3 performance of tangos by Piazzolla and Salgán, and Time for Three's June 7 performance with Modesto Symphony. I have included Piazzolla and Salgán in my survey of composers, but not of composition years; and I have excluded the music by Time for Three from my survey of composers.

Composition years

For baroque works whose exact years of composition are unknown, I used commonly accepted ranges (for example, I listed Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 as from the Cöthen years, 1717–1723). When averaging the composition years, I used the middle dates of these ranges (for Brandenburg, 1720). For operas and other large-scale works whose completion dates vary by a year or so, depending on the source, I generally used the later dates. For example, Verdi's Otello is sometimes dated as early as 1885 (IMSLP), but because he submitted the complete manuscript in December 1886 and the premiere was in early 1887, I listed its composition year as 1887, assuming that he made some final adjustments.

In the case that a composer revised a work and the orchestra's program doesn't specify the version performed, I generally listed the date of the first completed version, unless widely out of use. Only in a few cases would these choices make a measurable difference in the overall statistics (e.g. Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 2, which perished in a fire and was reconstructed ten years after its initial completion).

Composers' birthplaces

For composers born in areas that have since changed hands, I have used the designations active during their lifetimes. For example, Sontsovka, Prokofiev’s birthplace, is now in Ukraine. However, because it was, at the time of his birth, an estate of the Russian Empire, I have listed his birthplace as Russia. I listed Franck’s hometown, Liège, as part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands — but had this survey included Ysaÿe, born in Liège 36 years later, his birthplace would be Belgium.

Other notes

Several of these orchestra played the Star-Spangled Banner on their first concert of the year.

Go directly to the orchestras, composers, or works.

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16 orchestras surveyed

Orchestra name and 2016–17 season length

Sets per season

(excluding San Francisco Symphony, the sole full-time orchestra)

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Composers represented

Unique composers: 107

Genders of composers

Composers' birthplaces

North America: 32

South America: 4

Europe, United Kingdom: 4

Europe, Continental: 51

Europe, Transcontinental: 13

Asia: 3

Living composers: 28

Genders of living composers

Ages of living composers

Living composers' birthplaces

North America: 21

South America: 1

Europe, United Kingdom: 2

Europe, Continental: 2

Asia: 2

Most popular composers

Composers ranked by number of unique works performed

1. Mozart, 20 works

2. Beethoven, 14 works

3. Verdi, 12 works

4, 5. Brahms and Mahler, 8 works

6–9. Haydn, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich, and Sibelius; 7 works

10–12. Copland, Prokofiev, and Tchaikovsky; 6 works

Composers ranked by number of appearances

1. Beethoven, 27 appearances

2. Mozart, 22 appearances

3. Verdi, 15 appearances

4. Brahms, 12 appearances

5. Shostakovich, 10 appearances

6–10. Mahler, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, and Tchaikovsky; 9 appearances

11–14. Copland, Haydn, Sibelius, and Stravinsky; 7 appearances

Living composers ranked

These composers received one performance each of three unique works:

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Works

Composition year

Most popular composition years

There were 7 performances of pieces from each of these years:

Most popular works

Works performed by 4 different orchestras:

Works performed by 3 different orchestras:

Works performed by 2 different orchestras: