How American Are American Orchestras?

The Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) is rich with history. Filthy rich by most orchestras’ standards. Founded in 1881, the BSO’s illustrious past has played a significant part in its commissioning strategy. The orchestra has commissioned most of its works as part of the celebrations surrounding its 50th, 75th and 100th anniversaries and the 50th anniversary of its summer home, the Tanglewood Music Center. One of the highlights of the musical year for the orchestra is the Festival of Contemporary Music, which takes place at Tanglewood and dates to the mid ’50s.

For the anniversaries happening after 1970 — i.e., the 100th of the BSO and the 50th of Tanglewood — the orchestra commissioned a total of 17 works. In addition to these, the BSO has commissioned 18 pieces since 1970 in what amounts to a “miscellaneous” category.

Less than two-thirds of those commissioned since 1970 are U.S. composers, however, giving the BSO the most international pool of composers of any orchestra surveyed here. Another way of saying that is that the orchestra has been less supportive of U.S. composers than the other orchestras. But it still has brought over 20 American works to light (including John Harbison’s Cello Concerto and John Corigliano’s “The Red Violin”), a respectable number.

From How American Are American Orchestras?
by Andrew J. Druckenbrod
© 1999 NewMusicBox