By Ricky O’Bannon
robannon@bsomusic.org

Orchestra programming decisions aim to balance artistic merit and importance with the financial reality of what the ticket-buying public wants to hear.

The repertoire in the classical canon that most frequently make it on a concert calendar tend to be the works that best satisfy both of those factors. Using data from 22 American symphony orchestras’ concert calendars this season, below are the top 10 most performed works of 2014-2015.

Bolstered by annual performances near Christmas, George Frederic Handel’s Messiah was featured in the 38 concerts by a total of 13 of the 22 orchestras sampled. Close behind, Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition will be performed 37 times during the concert season by 12 different orchestras.

Beethoven claimed three of the top 10 most performed works. Symphony No. 5 was third overall with 35 performances by 12 orchestras while his Symphony No. 7 and Violin Concerto in D Major accounted for the sixth and seventh spots, respectively.

School and family concerts were not included in that calculation, but many of the most often works performed also are played in full or excerpted in family concerts. Mussorgsky’s Pictures will feature in an additional nine such concerts. In large thanks to its use in Disney’s Fantasia, Stravinsky’s The Firebird Suite will be performed another 15 times in pops or family concerts, including performances by two orchestras that didn’t program the work during their classical season.

While the exact number is up for some scholarly debate — Beethoven’s Violin Concerto from 1806 is arguably more representative of the Classical period — the majority of the works featuring in the top repertoire are from the Romantic era.

More from Orchestra Season by the Numbers series:

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