Bachtrack, the largest professional music portal in the world devoted to classical music, first asked critics of prominent newspapers to nominate their top ten orchestras and ten best conductors back in 2015. Now, eight years later, they decided to repeat the exercise: the Budapest Festival Orchestra, also the only non-Western-European and non-American orchestra, came in eighth. Iván Fischer was placed sixth on the critics’ international top ten list of conductors.
The critics canvassed by Bachtrack were near-unanimous in their decision in 2023, naming the Berlin Philharmonic the best symphony orchestra in the world, and choosing the group’s conductor, Kirill Petrenko, as the world’s best conductor. The top ten list, in addition to the BFO, included three American, three German, one British, one Austrian and one Dutch ensemble.
The article accompanying the list describes the strong performance of a Central European bloc among the world’s best orchestras, with the Berlin Philharmonic joined by the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic and the Budapest Festival Orchestra. According to the website, the BFO’s placement is the most surprising development, in a positive sense, on the list, with the ensemble “punching well above its weight” in the group of prominent competitors.
In the 2023 top ten list, the BFO is moreover the youngest orchestra, founded just 40 years ago: the only other ensemble on the list under a hundred years old is the Bavarian Orchestra. The Berlin Philharmonic was founded a century before the Festival Orchestra, and the Leipzig Gewandhaus is almost two hundred and fifty years older than the BFO. In the decades around the turn of the millennium, it was clearly Iván Fischer’s Hungarian ensemble that rose most rapidly to join the world’s elite orchestras. It is difficult to compare the financial situation of orchestras, but industry sources suggest that, based on its budget, the BFO would not be among the first thirty symphony orchestras in the United States.
“The position of Bachtrack’s panel reflects that of a community of music critics with a decidedly Western European and North American focus; their opinion essentially represents the voice of traditional musical culture, which makes this recognition all the more valuable,” said BFO managing director Orsolya Erdődy. “The critics of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the Times, La Stampa, El Pais, Le Figaro, Die Presse or the New Yorker made their decision based on their professional expertise, concert experiences and the BFO’s recordings, granting our orchestra a spot among the best in the world – coming ahead of American, French, Italian and Scandinavian ensembles. The international successes of Iván Fischer and the BFO are, of course, closely interlinked. Our music director’s placing is likely also a reflection of his work with other orchestras, including for instance the Concertgebouw, which also appears on the list.”
The BFO has been featured among the world’s best symphony orchestras for nearly a decade and a half. Gramophone had already listed it as the 9th best orchestra in the world in 2010, and last year – based on professional nominations and audience votes – named the BFO the Orchestra of the Year.