The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What is the difference between a “symphony” orchestra and a “philharmonic” orchestra? | May 25, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

Do you know the difference between a “symphony” orchestra and a “philharmonic” orchestra?

Between the New York Philharmonic (below top) and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (below bottom), for example?

Even if you do, you might enjoy the background given in a recent blog posting on the website of the famed classical radio station in New York City, WQXR.

Here is a link:

http://www.wqxr.org/story/what-difference-between-symphony-philharmonic-orchestra

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2 Comments »

  1. The labels “Symphony” and “Philharmonic” have become virtually the same thing. “Symphony” originally meant simply a group that played together, while “philharmonic” meant “sound-loving”. They are used virtually interchangeably now. New York in the 19th century developed both a Symphony Orchestra and a Philharmonic Orchestra. In the early 20th century, they merged to become the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, but over the years the label was reduced by usage to “New York Philharmonic”.

    Comment by John W. Barker — May 25, 2017 @ 9:11 am

  2. Sorry, I thought that “explanation” was as clear as mud.

    But I have a bigger question: might it not be time for Madison to have another orchestra, maybe it could be the Madison Philharmonic?

    I ask that question because I find the symphonic group, the MSO, has grown into such a staid, tradition bound, and conventional programming group. Too many warhorses on the performance list; most of the music is from the oh so conventional German/Austrian school;and works after 1900 seem to be pretty much not played at all (or very infrequently). Lots of very good composers from America are ignored and neglected (the list is long). In the last 25 years or so, I do not seem to recall much (if any) music that has been commissioned by the MSO. I do not recall any tours that the group has taken. And I do not recall any musical cd’s of its recordings. We have seen important celebratory years for composers like Philip Glass and Leonard Bernstein go without any note (bad pun).

    Might it not be time to think that in a vibrant city, which is home to lots of musicians, and a city which has such lovely performing centers, there should be an equally vibrant classical music symphonic/philharmonic group?

    Comment by FFlambeau — May 25, 2017 @ 3:56 am


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