If you love orchestral music, The Symphony remains the centrepiece of orchestral programmes. We've put our heads together, scoured the database for what's on this year, and put together a list of symphonies we think you shouldn't miss out on. Here they are, in descending order of how often they're being performed this year.

Each of the "Read more and listen" links takes you to a page where you can reach all the forthcoming performances, read the latest reviews and listen to the symphony online. So there's really no excuse for missing out!

 

Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony no. 5 in C minor, Op.67

Beethoven
Beethoven
Nothing quite says 'classical music' like the 'duh duh duh duuuh' of Beethoven's 5th symphony. Premiered in 1808, this classical masterpiece encompasses all the dark, energetic and dramatic qualities of the romantic period without straying too far from the familiar, catchy theme of the opening bars, making this exciting symphony accessible to seasoned concert goers and first timers alike.

It won't surprise anyone that of the symphonies we've chosen, Beethoven tops the "most performed" list, with performances spread across over thirty cities from Maryland to Madrid to Melbourne. The pick of the bunch should be in April at New York's Pablo Heras-Casado, paired with cellist Alisa Weilerstein playing Shostakovich's second concerto.

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Johannes Brahms - Symphony no. 1 in C minor, Op.68

Brahms
Brahms
Although rooted in Beethoven’s legacy and even dubbed "Beethoven's Tenth", Brahms' First Symphony stands on its own merits. It is original, with slow and powerful introductions to both the energetic first movement and the finale, where all the tensions are solved. It is special for its complex density, its inspired lyricism and its thematic development. A monumental work that explores profound feelings.

Performances of Brahms 1 aren’t hard to find in 2015, with 28 performances in the US and Europe as far east as Turkey. You’ll see it conducted by big names like Kent Nagano in Gothenburg, Christoph Eschenbach (if you’re able to get to the Vienna Phil) and Bernard Haitink in Boston.

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Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky - Symphony no. 6 in B minor, “Pathétique”, Op.74

Tchaikovsky
Tchaikovsky
The “Pathétique” is undoubtedly one of the most emotional pieces from this list. The listener travels through the profound melancholy of sombre voices and dark tones, which become ever more dramatic with fierce violins creating some of Tchaikovsky's most exquisite tunes. After intense, almost hysterical moments comes relief in the form of a waltz in 5/4 time and with the arrival of an upbeat and resolute orchestral chorus, one starts to believe in the promising end of this symphony. However the desperation of the first part returns and the audience is led to the silent end of the composer's personal tragedy.

Tchaikovsky's works are always popular, with performances in 2015 in eleven European countries as well as the US and Russia. If you're planning a trip to Austria's Grafenegg Festival in August, look out for Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic, together with Rudolf Buchbinder playing the Brahms First Piano Concerto, while Manfred Honeck conducts the Pittsburgh Symphony at Heinz Hall in April in a programme which includes his violinist brother Rainer playing the Britten concerto.

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Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky - Symphony no. 5 in E minor, Op.64

Not quite as famous as the “Pathétique”, the Fifth can be even more moving. The symphony opens with a long, wistful clarinet solo and Tchaikovsky brings back this theme in different guises in each movement – an elegiac Andante cantabile, a waltz and in the stirring finale. People view this finale differently – some see the closing section as triumphant, but it can also be seen as a hollow victory: a stoic resignation before fate.

Almost as often performed as the Pathétique, 2015 sees the fifth in Austria France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, as well as the US and Canada. One of the more enticing pairings is happening just next week at the Teatro di San Carlo in Maples, where the opera house's orchestra is also performing Brahms' Second Piano concerto with Yefim Bronfman. Also look out for Semyon Bychkov conducting the LSO in May at London's Barbican, on the 175th anniversary of Tchaikovsky's birth.

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Antonin Dvořák - Symphony no. 9 in E minor, "From the New World," Op.95

Dvořák
Dvořák
Dvořák’s “New World” is unrivalled for the combination of passion and sheer melodic invention: it's a work that wears its heart on its sleeve and is packed with tunes that won't leave you alone, particularly because of Dvořák's mastery in reworking and reiterating them. It's no coincidence that these themes are so familiar from film and advertising. The name misleads: this is a symphony deeply rooted in the composer's Czech homeland, in which the hills and forests of Bohemia are never far away.

The “New World” is ever popular in the US, of course, but can also be seen in the UK, Spain, Netherlands, Germany and Norway. Notable outings include Herbert Blomstedt and the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra at Amsterdam's Concertgebouw in May, and Manfred Honeck with the LSO in November, paired with Hélène Grimaud playing the Ravel G major Piano Concerto.

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Anton Bruckner - Symphony no. 7 in E major, WAB 107

Bruckner
Bruckner
Bruckner's Seventh Symphony, sometimes referred to as the “Lyric”, is one of his most popular symphonies and the composition that brought him long awaited success in his lifetime. The melodies are beautiful as well as demonic, yet very catchy; they are interspersed with resolute brass lines that give the orchestral sound great depth and make it impossible to deny Bruckner's strong admiration for Richard Wagner, whose death and the composer's sadness on the passing of his idol are mirrored in the second movement.

Long standing Bruckner expert Bernard Haitink conducts the Seventh in London in September, while Sir Simon Rattle conducts at La Scala in May. There are performances in Madrid, Poznan, Warsaw, Hamburg, Berlin and Brussels as well as Pittsburgh and Toronto.

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Gustav Mahler - Symphony no. 5 in C sharp minor

Mahler
Mahler
The most famous part of the Symphony is the fourth movement Adagietto, reputedly Mahler’s declaration of love for his wife Alma, which entrances the listener from first hearing. But it is the first and fifth movements which really twist the soul, the Adagietto providing much needed release amidst the tumult. Starting with a distinctive trumpet solo, this funeral march first movement is interrupted by a sweet dance and then returns to the trumpet's foreboding call which reappears slightly changed time and again during the movement. The power and forward propulsion of the symphony will captivate you.

Given the huge scale and scope of Mahler’s symphonies, it’s not surprising that they’re mainly tackled by the big orchestras: the Berlin Phil, the LSO and LPO, the Philadelphia Orchestra and La Verdi are among seventeen performances in the rest of 2015. An intriguing pairing happens in August in Austria’s Grafenegg Festival, where the European Union Youth Orchestra precede the symphony with opera arias by no less than Diana Damrau.

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Symphony no. 40 in G minor, K550

Mozart
Mozart
If you come to the Mozart 40 expecting classical form and elegance, you won’t be disappointed: it expresses classical form with unparalleled clarity and concision. But the 40th is so much more than technical perfection: the first movement urgent and propulsive, the second heart-stoppingly beautiful, the third alternating between bluster and grace, the fourth an explosion of high spirits. Mozart’s unique gift for touching the sublime shines through every passage.

2015 will see European performances of the 40th in any of Austria, France, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Iceland or in several cities around the United Kingdom. Orchestras of all sizes and types conduct it: one of the more intriguing should be in Lyon in April, where period specialist Ton Koopman leads the Orchestre Nationale de Lyon, pairing the 40th with Mozart's Great Mass in C minor.

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Camille Saint-Saëns - Symphony no. 3 in C minor “Organ Symphony”, Op.78

Saint-Saëns
Saint-Saëns
Is there a grander finale to a Symphony than that of Saint-Saëns Symphony no. 3? Saint-Saëns said “I gave everything to it I was able to” and his efforts can surely be heard in the thunderous sound of the organ in the final movement, which is often recognised as the title music from the film Babe. The symphony is dedicated to the memory of Saint-Saëns' friend Franz Liszt, who passed away shortly after its première in 1886.

The Saint-Saëns Third Symphony isn’t played as often as some of the others in this list, but you can still catch it in 2015 in France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK. In the United States, head for Houston’s Jones Hall in April and May, where it’s paired with young piano star Ben Grosvenor playing Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto.

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Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony no. 15 in A major, Op.141

Shostakovich © Deutsche Fotothek
Shostakovich
© Deutsche Fotothek
Probably the finest symphony composed within our lifetimes, Shostakovich’s Fifteenth is a veritable “riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. Why does he quote the William Tell theme? Or from Tristan und Isolde? Or Wagner’s Ring? Is it irony? Parody? With Shostakovich, you never can tell. He takes us to a very dark place, with eerie ticking from the percussion department particularly cold. It’s also the only symphony we know that opens with a glockenspiel!

In May, Donald Runnicles and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra are performing the Fifteenth in Glasgow and Aberdeen in a great looking programme which includes Shostakovich's First Piano Concerto and Janáček's Sinfonietta. For genuine Russian-ness, look no further than Valery Gergiev at London's Barbican, also in May. Other performances are in Finland, Germany, Sweden and the USA.

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