The Boston Symphony Orchestra announced their 2011-12 season today. My colleague Jeremy Eichler gives the rundown over at the Boston Globe, along with some reading of the tea leaves as well as more leaves to read. If, like me, your default category is composers, here’s a handy list:

9 works: Beethoven

7 works: Mozart (this includes all five violin concerti, performed by Anne-Sophie Mutter over two concerts to start the season)

4 works: Ravel, Strauss (Richard), Stravinsky

3 works: Berlioz, Brahms, Debussy, Haydn, Harbison (finishing a two-season survey of his symphonies, including the Sixth, the BSO’s only world premiere this season), Mendelssohn (including Lobgesang, which the symphony is letting Riccardo Chailly take a crack at)

2 works: Bartók, Dvořák, Prokofiev, Weber (Weber? Weber)

1 work: Bach (J. S.), Barber, Britten, Carter (the Flute Concerto, also headed to San Francisco for a December tour), Dutilleux, Kodály, Lutosławski, Mahler, Rachmaninoff, Salonen (the Violin Concerto, with the composer conducting), Schumann, Shostakovich, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Turnage (From the Wreckage, a US premiere), Wagner

So, yeah, Beethoven is taking up nearly 13 percent of the schedule. And those first four groups: 35 percent of the composers control 66 percent of the programming wealth! Just for fun, I ran the BSO’s seasonal composer distribution through a calculator to come up with its Gini coefficient, the standard shorthand for income inequality—the higher the number, the more concentrated the wealth. The BSO’s coefficient—37.9—isn’t quite as bad as the United States’ (45, as of 2007), but nowhere near Sweden’s coefficient of 23. One can, with questionable statistical validity, find the closest match on this list and thus declare the BSO the East Timor of orchestras.

Ah, you might say, but not all of those works occupy equal space on each program—Lobgesang, for instance, takes up the whole evening. Well, I ran those numbers, too—if a piece was one of three on a program that received four performances, for instance, it was credited with four-thirds of a performance. By that measure, Beethoven is now taking up over 16 percent of the schedule—and the Gini coefficient balloons to 43.4, on par with, say, Guyana.

The BSO’s press release, incidentally, included this spin:

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, arguably the least-known and least-performed of the composer’s nine symphonies

That’s kind of like calling Ringo the least-known Beatle, but I give the BSO marketing department props for putting forth the effort.

Update (5/6): I ran one more set: the Cleveland Orchestra’s 2011-12 season. Coefficient for works-by-composer alone: 38.2. Weighted by number of performances: 41.8.

Update (5/6): OK, one more, to compare with a new-music-focused group. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project‘s 2010-11 orchestral season shows a by-composer coefficient of 9.7, and a weighted-by-performance coefficient of 11.2. Much lower, not surprisingly; all but two composers are represented by a single piece of music. Expand the data to include their chamber concerts, and the by-composer coefficient becomes 11.4—but the weighted-by-performance coefficient jumps all the way to 37.9. Why? BMOP does multiple performances of a small number of programs, but the majority of the programs only get one performance, so the weighting becomes seriously skewed. (Eliminate those repetitions of programs, and the coefficient falls back to 18.4.)


  1. Good work – I love the use of the Gini coefficient to provide an objective measure of program dispersion.

    I've also measured Boston's program using a “repertoire safety index”, which scores programs by both composer popularity and the popularity of individual works. Boston comes in at a very conservative 5.4, with pieces written by living composers standing at 12%, and pieces written by American composers also at 12%

    For comparisons with orchestras in this part of the world, please check here.

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  3. Jodru: Actually I just tallied them up on a piece of paper. Old-school! There are various Gini calculators on the Web, some of which do consist of spreadsheet templates and macros, but I ended up just typing long columns of numbers into the one that's linked to above. Since they're fairly limited groups of whole numbers, it went pretty fast.

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