The Staatskapelle Dresden is the best sounding orchestra in the world.
There are famous orchestras around the world. We’ve all heard of Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics. We know about the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Concertgebouw.
The United States used to have a “big five” with San Francisco, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and New York. The Los Angeles Philharmonic now makes it the “big six.”
What about some orchestras without the big brand name that have a place in the world-class? Let’s take a look at three such orchestras.
The Staatskapelle Dresden is, in my opinion, the best sounding orchestra in the world, yet one must be baptized as an aficionado to have heard of the Dresdeners. The orchestra was founded in 1548 with the help of Heinrich Schütz. In the 19th Century, Dresden had music directors such as Carl Maria von Weber and Richard Wagner. No other extant orchestra has such luminous composers in its history.
The mid-20th Century saw Dresden isolated in East Germany during the Cold War. This could have something to do with the orchestra’s obscurity. I can only wonder how well attended a Staatskapelle Dresden concert would be should they have a tour stop in San Diego.
Staatskapelle Dresden - Fabio Luisi
Eine Alpensinfonie - Richard Strauss -
The same could be said of a Budapest Festival Orchestra tour stop in our fine city. Who’s ever heard of The Budapest Festival Orchestra?
The BFO is, hands down, one of the greatest orchestras in the world. Founded in 1983 by Iván Fischer and Zoltán Kocsis. Fischer remains the orchestra’s music director to this day.
We can attribute much of the BFO’s success to Fischer’s leadership, musicianship, and ability to communicate the essence of the music being performed.
Budapest Festival Orchestra:
Iván Fische - Mahler 9 symphony behind the scenes.
Our third orchestra is the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks or, as it’s known in English, The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Obviously, the name is in the way for most of humanity.
Founded in 1949 in Munich, the BRSO has been ranked as high and number one in world orchestra surveys. The 2010 Grammaphone Magazine rankings had the BRSO at number six, ahead of Cleveland and just behind Chicago.
There have been some illustrious names, such as Eugen Jochum, Rafael Kubelík, Sir Colin Davis, and Lorin Maazel., associated with the BRSO. However, the conductor many deem responsible for the BRSO’s rise is the recently deceased Mariss Jansons. In the 2023-24 season, Sir Simon Rattle will take over as the music director in Munich.
(Mariss Jansons, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra)
Antonín Dvořák - Symphony No. 9
How does the San Diego Symphony stack up to these not-so-well-known heavy-hitters? According to The League of American Orchestras, San Diego is a Tier One Orchestra and is a Top 20 American orchestra based on payscale. The quality of the San Diego sound as recorded versus one of these three would be negligible to the average ear. Of course, to the average ear, all orchestras sound about the same.
The average listener doesn’t always hear phrasing, accuracy, or dynamic range. This makes most orchestras sound about the same. In the YouTube video of Dresden playing Eine Alpensinfonie (above), there is a depth of sound texture that is the result of the accuracy of their tuning. One doesn't always hear such accuracy in San Diego or any other city, for that matter.