Classical chart-toppers in 2022

Some surprises and unexpected high-flyers turn up in the latest yearly rankings by the British classical website Bachtrack of most-played works and top musicians, based on the programs of some 23,000 concert and opera performances listed on the site in 2022.

While the year saw more variety and novelty in recordings, and considerably more programming of works by female, Black, Latino and Asian composers, standard repertory (i.e., by dead male Europeans from the classical and romantic eras) still ruled onstage:

– Mozart was the composer most often played in concerts, although none of his concertos made top-10 lists. Richard Strauss was a leading choice; but, curiously, there were fewer performances of his orchestral works than of suite(s) from his opera “Der Rosenkavalier.” Other top composers were Beethoven, J.S. Bach, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Ravel (whose “La valse,” interestingly, was played more often than “Boléro”).

– Ravel topped the piano-concerto chart with his G major (the two-handed one). Rachmaninoff’s Second was in second place and his Third and “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” also made the top 10. Concertos by Beethoven (Nos. 3, 4, 5), Brahms (No. 1), Schumann and Tchaikovsky rounded out the list.

– Among top-10 violin concertos, four may be surprises: Prokofiev’s First, Shostakovich’s First and those by Stravinsky and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Otherwise, old favorites held sway, with Mendelssohn leading the pack, followed by Beethoven, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Bruch and Brahms.

– Among cello concertos, Elgar’s beat Dvořák’s, with Shostakovich’s First in third place. (There were no Nos. 4 to 10; once past the two by Haydn, Saint-Saëns’ First and the Schumann, the repertory crosses into sonus incognita.)

– Orchestral rankings were dominated by US ensembles (Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles), along with the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, and two seeming dark horses from Austria: the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and Tonkünstler Orchestra, which divides its time between Vienna and St. Pölten. Two usually rated among the world’s best, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra of Munich, did not make this top 10.

– The conductors’ list was topped by Andris Nelsons, maestro of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig, followed by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Metropolitan Opera. Veterans (Paavo Järvi, Simon Rattle, Manfred Honeck, Iván Fischer, Daniel Harding, Gustavo Dudamel) shared the top 10 with Klaus Mäkelä, the soon-to-be 27-year-old chief conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris and chief-designate of the Royal Concertgebouw, and Andrés Orozco-Estrada, 45, formerly music director in Houston and Frankfurt, now leading the Tonkünstler Orchestra. (The maestro and the band both scored – party time in St. Pölten?)

– Generational change among leading performers was most pronounced in soloists’ rankings. Among 30 names in three top tens, only nine were widely prominent a decade ago. Pianist Yuja Wang, violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja and cellist Gautier Capuçon took top spots in their instrumental categories.

– The most frequently staged opera composer was Mozart, with “The Marriage of Figaro,” “The Magic Flute,” “Don Giovanni” and (surprisingly?) “Così fan tutte” in the top 10, along with three Puccinis (“La Bohème,” “Tosca,” “Madame Butterfly”), two Verdis (“La Traviata,” “Rigoletto”) and a Bizet (“Carmen”).

– Arvo Pärt was the most frequently programmed contemporary composer, followed, in order, by John Williams, John Adams, Thomas Adès, Philip Glass, Jörg Widmann, Sofia Gubaidulina, Anna Clyne, Wolfgang Rihm and James MacMillan. Performances of contemporary works rose most over the past three years in the US, Austria, the Netherlands, Spain, Hungary and Switzerland.

– Bach was the only top-10 composer active before the classical period. The lists include only two soloists (violinist Isabelle Faust and cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras), no period-instrument orchestras and no conductors more than peripherally associated with historical performance practice. (Many “modern” conductors and soloists, however, employ some historical techniques.)

In sum: Orchestras and opera companies still concentrate on composers whose busts you can set atop your piano. . . . Young and young-ish artists’ dominance in the soloists’ rankings explains the frequent programming of Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos (hot young virtuoso makes dazzling first impression), as well as the high rankings of less familiar violin and cello concertos (smart move: Save Beethoven, Brahms and Dvořák until you’re more seasoned). . . . For long-dead Europeans, you can’t beat opera: The most recently composed work in the top 10 was “Madame Butterfly,” which dates from 1904. . . . Older composers and works with lengthy performance histories are favored even in newer music – only two contemporary composers younger than 50 (Clyne, 42, and Widmann, 49) made the top 10. . . . It’s striking, probably revealing, to see the absence of some of the most accomplished and high-profile musicians – Riccardo Muti, Herbert Blomstedt, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Marc-André Hamelin, among many others.

To access Bachtrack’s top tens and other rankings, start here: