What does the typical contemporary music ensemble look like? I haven’t been able to find an answer to this question, so I decided to make my own enquiry.

There seems to be three categories: Larger ensembles, typically in the format of sinfoniettas. Ensembles in traditional formats, ie. string quartets, wind quintets, etc. And then: ecclectic, new, experimental formats. I have noticed, that when there are call for scores, it seems as if the formats available are most often within the 3rd category.

I decided to make a small investigation into the question, narrowing my research, so I looked for ensembles within the 3rd category, with these conditions:

  • the ensemble must be active now, 2022
  • they must be playing composed music (not excluding ensembles also doing other formats)
  • consisting of from 3 to 10 players
  • playing acoustic instruments, although ensembles also including electronics were also ok

I gathered info in a google sheet, and here is the result:

  1. I found (sofar) 18 ensembles
  2. They are based in Argentina Australia Denmark Finland France Germany Irland Italy Serbia UK USA
  3. They have between 8 and 3 members

What instruments are they playing?

All in all, these instruments were used: Voice Recorder Flute Obo Saxophone Clarinet Bassoon Trumpet Trombone Guitar Harp Accordeon Piano Percussion Violin Viola Cello Double Bass Electronics

What is the most frequently used instruments?

10Double Bass21%
The piano was part of 79% of the ensembles.

Since the average size of these ensembles were 6 players, I found it useful to look at the six most frequently used instruments, marked in bold above, and these are: Piano, Clarinet, Flute, Cello, Violin, Percussion.

What my mini-research has shown, so far, is that the typical ensemble playing contemporary music is a sextet with the so-called Pierrot ensemble with an added percussion player.

Here is the list of ensembles:

Uuisinta Ensemblehttp://www.uusintaensemble.fi/about.htmlFinland
Da capohttps://www.dacapochamberplayers.org/the-musiciansUSA
Dynamis Ensemblehttps://www.dynamisensemble.it/page1.htmlItaly
Eighth Blacbirdhttps://www.eighthblackbird.org/sextetmusiciansUSA
Ensemble KapariloArgentina
Ensemble RechercheGermany
Ensemble Sortisatiohttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ensemble_SortisatioGermany
Ensemble Studio6http://www.studio6.st/ensemble.htmlSerbia
The New York New Music Ensemblehttps://www.nynme.org/homeUSA
Sentieri selvaggihttp://sentieriselvaggi.org/il-progetto/Italy
Three of these ensembles are consisting of exactly the six most typical instruments, marked in bold. Two ensembles included the six instruments, while adding 1 or 2 others.


I based my search mostly in this “List of contemporary classical ensembles” (wikipedia). It is of course rather incomplete, and many of the listed ensembles are historical. What I find curious is that I had such a hard time finding information on these things online. It is really difficult for me to find updated databases on the current ensembles, and for that matter, festivals, calls for scores, and so on. In short: Information about the contemporary music scene seems to be really scarce.

This leads of course to my typical last words: Help! If you have information about good, updated ressources for contemporary music, composers, festivals, musicians and so on. If you know about more ensembles to include in my enquiry. And, of course, if you know about real, maybe even academic, enquiries into these questions: Help!

What does the typical contemporary music ensemble look like? Read about the results of my mini-enquiry - And give a hand finding out more:-)
“The confused composer”
Segar, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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