By orchestra, we mean a large instrumental ensemble that predominately plays classical music. It will combine instruments from different families, such as the string and woodwind section, to produce an immense and harmonious sound. It will have a conductor to guide it. Felix Mendelssohn is considered to be the first of the modern conductors. He was known otherwise for his string quartets. A conductor’s baton is used to enhance the body movements made by the conductor in directing their ensemble of musicians. You will notice that the conductor will always shake hands with the lead violinist out of respect, as they represent the whole orchestra.
Generally, a philharmonic or symphony orchestra will have eighty musicians that it can call upon to perform. The number used will depend on what is being performed and vary depending on the size of the venue. The first use of the term “philharmonic” was in London in 1813. It was when the Philharmonic Society was founded. The term translates to “music lover”.
The London Philharmonic Orchestra
Founded by conductors Sir Thomas Beecham and Malcolm Sargeant in 1932, The London Philharmonic Orchestra is one of five permanent symphony orchestras that are based in London. It was started as a rival to the London Symphony and BBC Symphony Orchestras. Their principal venue is the Royal Festival Hall.
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is also a British orchestra that is based in London. It was started by Sir Thomas Beecham, mentioned above, in 1946. Early on, the orchestra would secure some profitable recording contracts. It played at important engagements such as the Glyndebourne Festival Opera.
The Vienna Philharmonic commands the highest concert fees of all the orchestras. This amounts to $200,000 for a single night, and sometimes this can be more. They attract large audiences on their international tours, amounting to standing room only. They also make more records and earn more money from doing so than any other orchestra, except for possibly Metropolitan Opera.
A German orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic is ranked among the top orchestras of the world because of its compelling sound and virtuosity. Their awards include the Grammy Hall of Fame. It was founded in 1882, and by 1887 the orchestra was known as the Berlin Philharmonic. Their 1887 conductor was Hans von Bülow, who was to make them into a world-class orchestra.
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
For another philharmonic orchestra, we have the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. Founded in Norway when Mozart was only nine, this is thought to be the oldest orchestra in the world. Mozart was born on 27 January 1756. Their principal concert venue is the Grieg Hall. Norwegian composer Harald Sæverud (1897-1992), who lived in Bergen, would work closely with the orchestra.
The Boston Pops Orchestra
Branching out into different genres, we have the Boston Pops Orchestra. They have been active since 1885 and performing in Symphony Hall. They are based in Boston, Massachusetts, and will specialize in light classical and popular music of the day. The Boston Pops Orchestra is an offshoot of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO). It consists mainly of musicians from BSO but not generally its first-chair players, who will be its most talented and highly respected players.
So, apart from the famous orchestras based in London, there are others the world over that entertain us in concert halls, playing a variety of music from classical to popular music and film scores. It is a spectacle to see all the musicians arranged in their sections in the orchestra pits, or on stage, and to hear how all the sounds of the different instruments blend in perfect harmony.