The World's Best Symphony Orchestras

In 2008, Gramophone, one of the world's most respected classical music publications, took on the monumental task of ranking the world's best orchestras. With a panel composed of eleven renowned music critics from the United States, France, Austria, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, and Korea, Gramophone only ranked orchestras of a similar nature: modern romantic symphony orchestras (those known for their Mahlers, Wagners, Verdis, Strausses, and Dvoraks). Symphony orchestras that only specialize in a certain type of music such as baroque or renaissance music were omitted. Though not everyone will agree with the final rankings, the orchestras on this list are all deserving of their inclusion.

01
of 20

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam

Mariss Jansons leading the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in the program of Strauss and Bruckner at Carnegie Hall on Thursday night, February 14, 2013.

Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images

The Royal Concertgebouw has been performing classical music since 1888. The orchestra has a unique sound, largely due to the fact that it has only had seven conductors since its establishment. With a collection of nearly 1,000 recordings, it's easy to see why this orchestra takes its position at the top. Daniele Gatti assumed the role of chief conductor for the 2016-17 season. He succeeded Mariss Jansons, who was the chief conductor at the time of this ranking.

02
of 20

Berlin Philharmonic

Schumann Symphonies
Hiroyuki Ito / Getty Images

Founded in 1882, the Berlin Philharmonic has had 10 principal conductors, with its latest being Sir Simon Rattle since 2002. It's no surprise to see the Berlin Philharmonic in this position, especially since under Rattle the orchestra has won a handful of Grammys, Gramophone Awards, and more.

03
of 20

Vienna Philharmonic

Haydn And Brahms
Hiroyuki Ito / Getty Images

The Vienna Philharmonic is a very popular orchestra with long waiting lists for its weekday and weekend subscription tickets. With one of the world's best concert halls ​and a grueling audition process for its musicians, it's not hard to understand why this orchestra is so well-liked and highly regarded.

04
of 20

London Symphony Orchestra

London Symphony Orchestra
Hiroyuki Ito / Getty Images

Since its founding in 1904, the London Symphony Orchestra has quickly become one of the world's most famous, in part due to the group's recordings of original scores for movies such as "Star Wars," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and "Harry Potter."

05
of 20

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Chicago Cityscapes And City Views
Raymond Boyd / Getty Images

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is often considered the top U.S. orchestra thanks to its highly regarded brass section. At the time of this ranking, the group was led by Daniel Barenboim. It is now under the baton of renowned conductor Riccardo Muti.

06
of 20

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Hiroyuki Ito / Getty Images

Founded in 1949, this relatively young orchestra has had only five chief conductors: Eugen Jochum, Rafael Kubelík, Sir Colin Davis, Lorin Maazel, and Mariss Jansons. Because the group is a radio orchestra, every nuance can be picked up by the microphones; the musicians must be highly technical and emphatic for every note on the page.

07
of 20

Cleveland Orchestra

Severance Hall, home of the Cleveland Orchestra, Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Douglas Sacha / Getty Images

Franz Welser-Möst has led the Cleveland Orchestra since 2002. With its extensive touring across the U.S. and abroad, its long-term relationships with several leading orchestras, and Welser-Möst's inspiring interpretations of popular classics, the Cleveland Orchestra, another of the "Big 5" orchestras, has rightfully earned its place this list.

08
of 20

Los Angeles Philharmonic

LA Philharmonic
Hiroyuki Ito / Getty Images

The Los Angeles Philharmonic was founded in 1919. The group's "forward-thinking" interpretations and its ability to remold and remodel its performances at the whim of the conductor gives this orchestra a unique advantage. The group resides in the abstract Walt Disney Concert Hall, where it has been led by conductor Gustavo Dudamel since 2005.

09
of 20

Budapest Festival Orchestra

Budapest Festival Orchestra
Hiroyuki Ito / Getty Images

This "baby" orchestra was founded in 1983, but despite its young age, has become a leading world orchestra. Iván Fischer, the orchestra’s founder, set out to create an orchestra that would influence and invigorate the musical life and culture of Hungary—and that he did.

10
of 20

Dresden Staatskapelle

Myung-Whun Chung
Hiroyuki Ito / Getty Images

Unlike the Budapest Festival Orchestra, the Dresden Staatskapelle has been performing for over 450 years. The orchestra has a rich and varied history as well as a beautiful concert hall that adds to its unique sound. The group is led by conductor Christian Thielemann.

11
of 20

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Hiroyuki Ito / Getty Images

The third "Big 5" member on the list is the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Founded in 1881, the orchestra has spent most of its life in the Boston Symphony Hall, which was modeled after Vienna's Musikverein. The Boston Symphony Orchestra was the first orchestra to perform live on the radio (in 1926). The group has been led by music director Andris Nelsons since 2014.

12
of 20

New York Philharmonic

New York Philharmonic
Hiroyuki Ito / Getty Images

The fourth "Big 5" on the list, the New York Philharmonic is the United States' oldest orchestra; it was founded in 1842. The group has won over a dozen Grammy Awards. Perhaps the best-known person to lead the New York Philharmonic is Leonard Bernstein, who conducted from 1958 to 1969.

13
of 20

San Francisco Symphony

Japanese Symphony Conductor Seiji Ozawa
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Established in 1911, the San Francisco Symphony is known for its remarkable Mahler recordings. The group has been led by Michael Tilson Thomas since 1995. Thomas is the longest-tenured music director among the major American orchestras.

14
of 20

Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra

Russian conductor Valery Gergiev leads the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra during a performance at the Red Sea International Music Festival, Port of Eilat, Israel, February 27, 2009.
Dan Porges/Getty Images

The Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra is one of Russia's oldest companies. It is currently led by artistic and general director Valery Gergiev, where he has served since 1988.

15
of 20

Russian National Orchestra

Russian National Orchestra
Hiroyuki Ito / Getty Images

A relatively young orchestra, the Russian National Orchestra was founded in 1990. With over 75 recordings and over a dozen awards, it has quickly gained popularity and world recognition. The orchestra is led by its founder and artistic director, Mikhail Pletnev.

16
of 20

Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra

The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra Perform At The Barbican In London
Redferns via Getty Images / Getty Images

The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra has been officially performing in the Gewandhaus concert hall since 1781. With an impressive history of past conductors, including Felix Mendelssohn, the orchestra has been performing fantastic classical music for over 250 years. The group is led by music director Andris Nelsons, who is also the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

17
of 20

Metropolitan Opera Orchestra

Opening Night At The Met
Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images / Getty Images

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra performs nearly every day of the week during the opera season. The Met, known for its superb opera stars, needs to have an equally impressive roster of talented instrumentalists. The orchestra is led by principal conductor Fabio Luisi, who has held the post since 2011.

18
of 20

Saito Kinen Orchestra

Saito Kinen Orchestra
Hiroyuki Ito / Getty Images

Founded in 1984 by famed conductors Seiji Ozawa and Kazuyoshi Akiyama, the Saito Kinen Orchestra is the most famous orchestra in Japan. The group was initially organized to perform a series of special concerts commemorating the 10th anniversary of Hideo Saito's death. Saito, a teacher to both Ozawa and Akiyama, helped found one of Japan's leading schools of music, the Toho Gakuen School.

19
of 20

Czech Philharmonic

Czech Philharmonic
Hiroyuki Ito / Getty Images

Founded in 1896, the Czech Philharmonic has won a variety of awards. Notable past conductors include Rafael Kubelik and Vaclav Neumann. In 1908, Gustav Mahler conducted the premiere of his 7th Symphony with the Czech Philharmonic.

20
of 20

Leningrad Philharmonic

CIS,Russia,St.Petersburg,interior of Shostakovich Philharmonia Hall
Demetrio Carrasco / Getty Images

The oldest Russian orchestra, the Leningrad Philharmonic, formally known as the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, was founded in 1882. Under the baton of Yuri Temirkanov, the orchestra tours extensively.

  • seiji-ozawa-conductor.jpg

    A Profile of World Famous Conductor Seiji Ozawa

  • Life and Work of Romantic Composer Felix Mendelssohn

  • A Unesco heritage site, the magnificent Sydney Opera House hosts thousands of productions and live performances each year

    The World's Best Concert Halls

  • bartok

    54 Famous Composers of the 20th Century

  • Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman performs Brahms's First Piano Concerto with conductor Sir Simon Rattle leading the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) at Barbican Centre on July 2, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.

    The Difference Between a Symphony Orchestra and a Philharmonic

  • Chopin, 1895

    Meet the 24 Best Romantic Period Composers

  • 'Sunday Amusements in New Orleans--A Creole Night at the French Opera House' by Alfred B. Waud, 1866

    What Was Music Like During the Romantic Period?

  • A-Ha - Take On Me

    100 of the Best Pop Songs of All Time

  • The Beatles

    30 Boy Bands That Topped the Charts

  • Violinist performing

    Instruments of the Early Symphony Orchestra

  • Top Christmas songs illustration

    The Top 100 Christmas Songs

  • Yo-You Ma playing at the 2017 Concordia Annual Summit - Day 1

    Top 10 Albums by World Famous Yo-Yo Ma

  • Everly Brothers

    Here's a Look at the Top 40 Most Essential Pop Artists of All Time

  • circa 1810: Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770 - 1827) the German composer.

    A Brief, Introductory Guide to Beethoven's 9 Symphonies

  • Best party songs of all time

    Here's a List of the Top 100 Best Party Songs of All Time

  • Eroica Symphony title page

    Style, Pop Culture, Napoleon Bonaparte and Beethoven's Eroica Symphony