23 Aug 2014
82° Mostly Cloudy

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Trumps the New York Philharmonic

Not that it's a competition or anything.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Trumps the New York Philharmonic

This week’s column was submitted Laura Adler, of the Readers’ Services department at the .

When I was in my teens and in thrall of all things New York, I just assumed the New York Philharmonic was the greatest orchestra in the U.S. My mother, a violin teacher and Chicago Symphony Orchestra subscriber since her music school days, set me straight.

"The Chicago Symphony's considered the greatest orchestra in the country," my mother told me.

"Really?" I said.

"Yes,” she said.

"Huh," I said.

I wondered if perhaps my mother, a longtime CSO attendee, was biased. I wondered if this was an attempt to sell me on the merits of Chicago when I was intent on moving to New York City. In my defense, I was young, more knowledgeable about pianists than orchestras, biased in favor of all things New York, and, well—young.

Now, I haven't undertaken a comparative study of symphony orchestras, and I'm certainly not qualified to judge. Nor is there a World Series of orchestras. But after attending a number of CSO concerts and listening to a lot of CDs, I do think my mother was right.


Gramophone Magazine, among others, agrees with her. In 2008, the classical music magazine ranked the Chicago Symphony Orchestra number five on its list of the top 20 orchestras, the highest ranked U.S. orchestra. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam was named number one.

But enough with the rankings; this isn't baseball. Just check out some of the library's Chicago Symphony Orchestra CDs and listen for yourself. An excellent starting place is the complete Beethoven Symphonies conducted by the late Sir Georg Solti. My favorite is the Symphony No. 3, with its soaring first movement.

That said, there's a reason Symphony No. 5 is a classical music hit. Listen to all four movements, not just the famous first, to hear why. And to experience the joy that is the Symphony No. 9, turn the volume up to 11, to borrow a phrase from the film This is Spinal Tap (but not in the library, seriously).

Another CD worth checking out is Verdi's Messa da Requiem, conducted by Riccardo Muti, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s new music director. Released in 2010 on the CSO's own label, Resound, the CD won two Grammys, one for Best Choral Performance and one for Best Classical Music album.

In an interview with Muti that accompanies the CD, he said "Verdi, like Mozart, was a composer who expressed the most essential feelings of mankind: love, hate, friendship, jealousy—everything that reflects our life, our way of being human. His music is the mirror of who we are."

The Requiem begins so quietly that you may think the CD isn't working. But listen carefully and stay tuned for an otherworldly experience. And be grateful that you can listen to great music for free courtesy of your local library, and that you live in the vicinity of the greatness that is the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Connect on Facebook.

Share This Article