Orchestras developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and since then, very little has changed. Simply put, an orchestra is a group of musicians playing musical instruments together. The instruments are from different families, including stringed instruments such as violin, viola and cello. Brass instruments such as horn, trumpets and tuba, and percussion instruments such as timpani and drums.
The musicians harmoniously play their instruments under the strict supervision of their conductor, for a well-coordinated performance. You will be forgiven for thinking all orchestra performances are similar. The truth is, they differ depending on the type of music played and the number of musicians involved. Universally, there are three types of orchestras as follows.
This ensemble has the highest number of participating musicians, 50 to 100. They play different musical genres, including classical, film, scores, and jazz. It also includes a significant number of various instruments, including the usual string, brass, and percussion instruments. However, it is not unusual to find a harp, piano, or an organ being used. The symphony orchestra has several main sections, depending on the played instruments.
Furthermore, the players must sit in a specific order, dependent on the conductor’s will and the peculiarities of a musical composition. There is one strict rule that governs the instrument arrangement. All copper wind instruments should be near each other, as should be wooden and stringed instruments. Formed in 1948, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London is the perfect example of a symphony orchestra.
A chamber orchestra is notably smaller than a symphony, with under 50 players. The musicians perform in the chamber room of a private home or public hall. Due to the few players, each musical part is played individually, except for the string instruments that demand an equal number of players as the symphony orchestra.
This is the smallest of all orchestras, with the most common number of participants being eight. The number can go up to 18, with the addition of more violins. As its name suggests, the orchestra involves playing only string instruments. Consequently, they only play music exclusively written for string instruments, mostly classical and baroque styles.
Notably, the string orchestra does not require a conductor. Thanks to their small number, the players can coordinate themselves harmoniously, without the guidance of a conductor. However, they have to observe the strict sitting arrangement rule mentioned earlier.
Orchestra performances are exciting and entertaining to watch and play. Should you decide to join an orchestra or watch a live performance, some background information will help enhance the experience.