Flute players in an orchestra.

Top 5 Orchestras in the U.S.

What is an Orchestra?

Have you ever wondered: what is an orchestra? Orchestras are combinations of instruments: particularly string, woodwind, brass and percussion. They are played by an ensemble of musicians.

Large groups of musicians and dancers who accompanied dramatic performances in theaters in ancient Greece were called orchestras. In 1607, the Italian composer Monteverdi put together an orchestra of around 40 instruments — flutes, cornetts, trumpets, trombones, strings and keyboards — to dramatize his operatic masterpiece, Orfeo. He’s often credited with assembling what we know as orchestras today.

Later, Mozart and Haydn built upon Monteverdi’s foundations by increasing the size of their orchestras. By the mid-1800s, orchestras often contained over 100 members. This led to a need for conductors and larger concert halls like we use today.

Today, the U.S. has 1,224 orchestras to its name.

The Modern Symphony Orchestra

The modern symphony orchestra had its roots in the 18th century. Johann Stamitz divided the musical instruments into four sections:

  • Woodwinds — includes flutes, oboes and bassoons.
  • Brass — consists of the horns and trumpets.
  • Percussion — includes two kettledrums.
  • Strings — contains the first and second violins, the violas, the cellos and the double basses.

Symphony vs. Philharmonic vs. Chamber

You may have heard people say symphony orchestra or philharmonic orchestra. Generally, these interchangeable names mean the same thing and are used to differentiate two orchestras from the same city. For example, New York City is home to both the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra and the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra.

The word symphony comes from the Greek words syn, meaning together, and phone, meaning sound or voice. Philharmonic means music loving.

As for a chamber orchestra, these typically consist of 50 musicians or less and often stick to playing classical music.

5 Orchestras in the U.S. You Don’t Want to Miss

There is nothing more beautiful to the ears than a harmonious orchestra of sound. So, where can you experience this feast of sound in the U.S., and how much do they cost?

1. The New York Philharmonic

Established in 1842, the New York Philharmonic is the oldest orchestra in the U.S. Over 50 million people attend these shows every year. This orchestra travels all over the world with its beautiful music. The New York Philharmonic consists of 106 awe-inspiring professional musicians. Together they will capture your soul.

The average price for a show at the Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in New York is $200 per ticket. Of course, it depends on where you want to sit. The closer to the stage, the more you are going to pay. Some of the best seats cost up to $280. Membership starts at $100 per person. The perks include free access to donor rehearsals, meeting the musicians and backstage passes. Unfortunately, children under the age of 4 are not permitted to attend — crying is not conducive to this most beautiful composition of sounds.

2. The Boston Symphony Orchestra

Founded in 1881, the Boston Symphony Orchestra performs over 250 concerts every year. Millions of people listen to live music performances on the internet, television, radio and at college. The orchestra often performs the beautiful and inspiring symphonies of Beethoven, Mahler, Shostakovich and Brahms.

Live tickets for a performance at the Carnegie Hall Isaac Stern Audition in New York cost a minimum of $170. Membership prices depend on the type of donor you want to be. The cheapest membership fee is $100, and the highest price is $2,500. Each package has its own exclusive benefits.

3. Los Angeles Philharmonic

Established in 1919, the Los Angeles Philharmonic performs over 250 concerts every year. The two best venues to catch these unforgettable performances are the Hollywood Bowl and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. These places have spectacular architecture. This orchestra also performs in local schools, concert halls, churches and neighborhoods.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic is perhaps the most creative and innovative orchestra in the U.S. The average ticket price for a show is $123. Friends’ membership cards range from $75 to $2,000 a year. Each card has its own perks and conditions.

4. The Cleveland Orchestra

Founded in 1918, the Cleveland Orchestra is one of the best, performing at home, in residencies and all around the world. The orchestra has around 60 full-time professional musicians. It is the first orchestra to honor the Black activist and martyr Martin Luther King and has a strong social message.

The average ticket price for a show is around $200. Packages start at as little as $57.

5. Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Established in 1891, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performs more than 100 hundred concerts every year. Catch their stunning performances in their Symphony Center or at their Ravinia Festival. Their brass section is truly outstanding! The symphony has released hundreds of albums and earned 63 Grammy Awards, including Classical Album of the Year and Best Classical Performance in vocal, choral, instrumental and orchestral categories. It is overflowing with musical talent and beauty!

The ticket price at the Ravinia Festival on the North Shore starts at a world-beating $25.

You’ll want to do everything you can to ensure a ticket to a performance of any of these five amazing concerts! This could be a game-changer — the start of a beautiful and eternal friendship with orchestras!