The World's Top Five Cities for Classical Music

Thursday, August 02, 2012

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?


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Comments [7]


how can you put Tokyo over Vienna?

Sep. 06 2013 11:12 PM
Philip Knijff from Amsterdam

Amsterdam holds the Concertgebouw and the Royal Concertgebouw orchestra. The Muziektheater hosts the Nederlandse Opera, with top Dutch orchestras in the pit. Since 2004 also the Muziekgebouw IJ.

Berlin holds the Berliner Philharmonie, the Konzerthaus Berlin, and four opera houses.

Londen offers the ROH and several orchestras, but no decent Music Hall.

New York offers the Met and Carnegie Hall.

Paris holds two opera house and the Musique de la Cité.

Vienna holds three opera houses and the Musikverein.

This is our top 6.

Aug. 14 2012 01:16 PM
lesterp4 from nyc

New York City has 4 million more people than Paris, not 4 million fewer!!!!!!!!!!

Aug. 06 2012 02:29 AM
Dimitar Kambourov6t5 from New York

Well, I haven't lived in Tokyo and Paris and sure things change along the years. Still Vienna is much ahead of New York and Berlin at least in two respects: it has made its musical scene the ultimate focus of its cultural life (nothing like cheaply expensive Broadway there), the quality of this musical scene is much more impeccable and stern, which brings me to my crucial point: Vienna is by far less provincial than New York and Berlin as far as musical life is at stake. Mozart and Richard Strauss count and weight much more than the Strauss clan; the audience is far better prepared and much less ready to make compromises, one will hardly witness in disbelieve smashing applause on a poor concerts or performances. My experience with New York is spread along the last ten years and it is not known to be the most non-provincial city in the world. As far as visual arts are at stake, perhaps; but the things seem to deteriorate as far as the big orchestra performances might be a litmus: the visiting orchestras and performers do not to seem to feel that challenged and "pursued" as before, their programs are rarely original, bold or defying, the golden mean seem to dominate. As for the New York Philharmonic I'm much happier with Alan Gilbert than I was with Lorin Maazel, but still the orchestra will hardly make it in the top 10. As for London, I did not like their concert halls. For Paris again - I don't think their best orchestras (except Entercontemporain) are on the level to put the city on the top.

Aug. 03 2012 06:54 PM

I agree with the list, but I'm surprised Vienna didn't make the list. Surely 'Wien' deserves to be there as well, right?

Aug. 03 2012 11:49 AM
Robert from Paris

Interesting list though you might want to check your population data. If you're going to include the greater Paris area in that data then you might as well do the same for NYC too. Considering that, the greater NYC area contains close to twice as many people as the the greater Paris area –

Among others, the past several seasons at Cité de la Musique in Paris have been off the charts in terms of quality and inspired programming.


Aug. 03 2012 10:27 AM
Andrew from Lower Merion, PA

I don't see how any city could beat out London as best City for Classical music: with the Royal Phil, London Symphony, London Philharmonic as 3 of the world's top orchestras, and the world's largest summer music Festival, the Proms, these results seem a bit askew. London has all the rest as well: opera, recital halls, chamber orchestras, etc. How did it fall behind?

Aug. 03 2012 09:58 AM

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