The great orchestras of yesterday were each known for their defining characteristics. Their sound, their musicality, their personalities were usually defined by great conductors, who spent much time with their orchestras developing them. Here are four of the greats:
Known for its opulent string sound, the Philadelphia Orchestra had two music directors with extraordinarily long tenures – Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy. These long relationships allowed the orchestras to develop their sound and refine it.
The Cleveland Orchestra was/is known for its lightness of sound, clarity and precision. The orchestra’s wind instruments are particularly integrated and matched, as in this clip:
The Chicago Symphony is the muscle car of the orchestra world, with deep, rich, thrilling brass:
If today’s orchestras work at burnishing their reputations with technical brilliance, Toscanini’s NBC Orchestra was all about heart. In the performance below, you’ll hear some ragged ensemble but lots of passion.
Four great orchestras, four personalities. Each has a defining greatness. There are many orchestras today that play well, and the general level of playing is higher than ever. But do any orchestras have the distinctive “defining greatness” of the great orchestras of the past? Can you tell what orchestra you’re listening to just by listening?