Saturday, November 22, 2008

Orchestral Ranking?

Like many other people in the music biz or blogosphere, I received the press release about Gramophone's ranking of orchestras around the world. Marcus Maroney and Marc Geelhoed have both commented on the rankings.

I'm not going to bother posting the lists. I think rankings such as this are silly; all of the orchestras on the list are first class. And orchestras have different strengths and weaknesses, which vary depending on who is leading them. Witness reviews of the NYPO under different conductors over the last 40 years, for example.

For that matter, I have to wonder how views of an orchestra are affected by the concert hall in which it plays. I've heard both the LAPO and SFS in their halls, and I have no idea on what basis the LAPO would be ranked above the SFS; from a technical and musical standpoint, I thought the strings and winds about equal and the SFS brass better than that of the LAPO. But the LAPO plays in the best concert hall on the West Coast and the SFS in the worst, and that difference is readily audible.

That gets to another reason I have little to say about the rankings: I have heard only six of the orchestras listed on their home ground, and a couple of them only decades ago. Of course I'd love to heard them all, when my travel budget supports that.


Anonymous said...

I think you are on to something about the home concert hall. Like having home field advantage, the Disney is really first rate.

Even the vaunted CSO brass section gets some assistance from a series of transparent baffles when I saw them some years ago.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Yeah. Disney is beyond first-rate; I think it is one of the best halls in the world.

I'd love to hear the SFS in the War Memorial Opera House or, of course, at Disney.

me said...

So, the Gramophone rankings are "silly" but given equal halls you'd put SFS above the LA Phil? Sounds like you just created your own ranking, but I guess that isn't silly now, is it? ;-)

FWIW: I've heard all orchestras in that particular top 10 list live and 18 of the top 20 (exceptions are Saito Kinen & Czech Phil). Most of the time it was in each orchestras "home" hall, plus a few times here in So Cal in the various halls (Disney, Dorothy Chandler, Royce, older Segerstrom). All of them are fine orchestras, of course, and any ranking of them is inherently subjective, with repertory relevant as others have said -- I mean who really thinks Vienna is the in the Top 5 (or even Top 10) orchestras to play Le Scare du Printemps?

To your point of making an apples-to-apples comparison of orchestras in the same good hall, Disney Hall has hosted quite a few of them since it opened: Berlin, Concertgebouw, Cleveland, SFS, Philadelphia, St. Petersburg, Philharmonia, and of course the LA Phil, among many others. All were very nice experiences, but I was not particularly wowed by Philadelphia, SFS, or Philharmonia. Cleveland sounded great in Dvorak and Bartok, but the interpretations were uninspired (yes, FW-M was conducting).

I was also lucky enough to hear "La Mer" played by Berlin, Concertgebouw, and LA Phil at Disney Hall. They all sounded magnificent AND very different: Berlin/Rattle was buttery smooth, Concertgebouw/Jansons warm & earthy, and LA/Salonen shimmering & crystaline; the least satisfying for me was actually Berlin conducted by Rattle. Go figure.

Lastly, I've had the pleasure to hear both SFS and LA Phil in three different halls (Davies, Dorothy Chandler, and Disney) in similar repertory over the years. They are both wonderful orchestras that deserve the world-class recognition they are getting. But across an entire season in music conducted by their music directors and guest conductors, I've preferred the LA Phil overall (combination of sound and intepertration) more than SFS in the wide-range of repertoire from classical to 21st century. I definitely would NOT say one orchestra's brass is better than the other; that said, Mark Inouye is one heck of a player, and I'm glad that MTT finally -- FINALLY -- decided to promote him to Prinicpal.

me said...

Regarding Walt Disney Concert Hall's sound quality . . .

Shortly after it opened, I was lucky enough to chat briefly with pianist Mitsuko Uchida while she was signing an autograph for me.

I asked her, "So, does the hall sound good?"

She replied, "It is not just good. It is as good as a hall can be."

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thinking the SFS brass might edge out the LAPO brass is not quite the same as saying SFS is better than the LAPO. It's not like I've heard the two orchestras in the same repertory, same hall, same conductor - how else could you tell?

Michael Walsh said...

I think it's more of an achievement when an orchestra manages to impress when on tour. Every orchestra should sound its best in its home arena.

Unknown said...

The list is undoubtedly silly, and even if you did hear "the two orchestras in the same repertory, same hall, same conductor", it still wouldn't be a fair comparison. Too many variables to account for!

Lisa Hirsch said...

Marcus, yeah, though such a comparison at least gives you something real to compare.

Mike, well, I can't believe SFS ever sounds its best in its home arena. I wonder what the Flint Center acoustics are like.