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The World's Top Five Cities for Classical Music

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As nations vie for athletic superiority at the London Olympics, the Greater London Authority has created an international measuring stick to assess a location’s cultural merit. The 2012 World Cities Culture Report, released on Wednesday, examines 12 cities from around the globe and their contributions to art, theater, literature, cinema and other entertainment. We combed through the 150-page document to see which metropolises came out on top musically.

1. Paris

With 423 live music venues and more than 30,000 performances a year, the city of lights shown brightest among the list. (And this didn’t take into account the multitudes of chansons written about Paris.) While these numbers take into account hole-in-the-wall spaces, the report also cited Paris's 15 major concert halls—another metric that was included. (It does apply a caveat, stating that these larger theaters “are, however, the tip of the iceberg”).

2. New York

Though New York has almost four million fewer people than Paris, the Big Apple ties the French capital in the number of major concert venues and comes closest among the 11 other cities in the number of annual live performances (20,000). Among its attributes, Gotham was lauded for its distribution of culture, with musical events popping up in all five boroughs—from the Bronx Opera to the Brooklyn Philharmonic. And it gives a special shout out to the Metropolitan Opera’s HD telecasts, which transmit its productions to the rest of the world.

3. London

With its Cultural Olympiad in full swing, London is awash in music performances, which is fairly normal for this city which boasts 349 concert spots and ten major concert halls. The opening ceremonies alluded to this vibrant scene with performances from Simon Rattle conducting the London Symphony Orchestra (with Mr. Bean on the synthesizer) and sound bites of the Who, Kinks, and Rolling Stones, as well as a rollicking performance of “Hey Jude,” by Sir Paul McCartney. The report also noted the city’s openess to experimentation: “The sheer number of cultures in London perhaps gives it a different ‘feel’ from other cities – more free, more tolerant, more relaxed about difference, and more accepting of failure.”

4. Tokyo

The culture report didn’t just analyze data from the U.S. and Western Europe, but looked to cities around the globe, including Sydney, Johannesburg, Istanbul, São Paulo, Mumbai and Shanghai. Of them all, Tokyo’s music landscape came out on top. With more venues than London (385) and as many concert halls as New York and Paris, Japan’s capital fosters a vibrant aural scene, combining ancient Eastern traditions with Western and modern ones. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who attended Carnegie Hall’s JapanNYC festival in 2010-11. 

5. Berlin

Rounding out our top five, based on the report, is Berlin. Though it had the smallest population among the dozen cities—it’s less than half the size of New York and about one-fourth of Tokyo’s—it has 250 live venues, three top-tier opera houses and eight symphony orchestras. Even if the report only found two major concert halls, you don’t need to trek far to find a music performance in the German capital.

Weigh in: What do you think is the world's top city for classical music?