Critically acclaimed orchestras battle with the greats for their share of the glory

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The Independent Online
PREMIER LEAGUE

BERLIN PHILHARMONIC :

Probably the only symphony orchestra ever to have become a household name (its past conductors include Mahler, Brahms and Grieg). Seven years after the death of its legendary conductor Herbert von Karajan the orchestra and its current maestro Claudio Abbado remain in demand all over the world. Player for player it is probably even better now than in Karajan's day. Abbado says: "With them, I feel like I'm riding a thoroughbred. I try to convey the feeling of complete liberty and indicate with a few small gestures the direction we should take." The city of Berlin continues to fund it lavishly. Indeed it is Berlin rather than the BBC which will be paying for tonight's visit by the orchestra.

CHICAGO SYMPHONY

Making its first visit to the Proms for seven years and bringing both its principal conductor Daniel Barenboim and its conductor laureate Sir Georg Solti. Barenboim says of his charges: "I am continually refreshed by their eagerness to to re-examine music they have played many times and with enviable success. The orchestra never rests on its past achievements, even though it is the toast of audiences throughout the world."

NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC

The oldest orchestra in the United States: former music directors include Mahler, Toscanini and Bernstein. Under its present maestro Kurt Masur it was named Orchestra of the Year at the 1993 classical music awards. Unlike most of its premier league counterparts it also specialises in outreach work and in commissioning and championing new pieces. One early world premiere was Dvorak's New World Symphony.

CHALLENGING FOR PROMOTION

ROTTERDAM PHILHARMONIC

Valery Gergiev, who is also conductor with the Kirov, is the hottest name around; but it is a name that stubbornly remains considerably hotter than the Rotterdam orchestra he conducts. Indeed this autumn's festival by the orchestra is, significantly, entitled "The Rotterdam Philharmonic Gergiev Festival". Gergiev praises the orchestra's "very light sunny sound and strong character," but audiences simply will not acknowledge it as a global name.

OSLO PHILHARMONIC

Sold out its Proms concert, but largely because of its conductor Mariss Jansons. Ironically, Jansons has had a heart attack and will not appear. By itself the Oslo Philharmonic does not have the reputation of Berlin, Vienna, New York and Chicago, though Lebrecht describes its sound as "absolutely distinctive".

NICOLAUS ESTERHAZY SINFONIA

Not a name to trip lightly off the tongue, nor one likely to have them queuing round the block for tickets. But this Hungarian orchestra, conducted by flautist Bela Drahos, has drawn some rave reviews for its budget Beethovens on Naxos. The Daily Telegraph described the orchestra's recording as "not only a bargain but also a magnificent record by any standards".

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