Classical musicians are instrumentalists and performers who primarily play classical pieces of music. People who play classical music might perform as solo artists or as part of an ensemble or orchestra. To be regarded as classical musicians, these performers must not only play classical music but must perform the music using traditional instruments rather than modern instruments such as electronic guitars or synthesizers.
Technically, the Classical era was a period of time lasting from around the middle of the 18th century until the middle of the 19th century, during which composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart rose to prominence by writing music that was performed by large orchestras. The Classical era of music was immediately preceded by the Baroque era and was followed by the Romantic era. Despite the fact that the Classical era lasted for only a century, people commonly refer to all music that was produced between the Middle Ages and the 20th century as classical music. Some 20th and 21st century composers who write in the style of Mozart and other notable composers of the past are referred to as classical composers even though they were born more than a century after the Classical era ended.
Orchestras are synonymous with classical music. Typically, an orchestra that plays classical music will include instrumentalists who play woodwind, brass and string instruments. Experienced classical musicians in an orchestra are often chosen to perform solos, and some orchestral pieces feature lengthy solos that are often performed by violinists or flutists. Major orchestras often partner with renowned musicians when performing particularly challenging pieces of music. The classical musicians who perform in major orchestras normally have music degrees or attended performing arts schools.
During the Romantic era, many prominent composers wrote piano concertos, and pianists are often among the most famous classical musicians. Pianists normally work independent of orchestras but often go on national or international tours and perform piano symphonies alongside local orchestras. Some classical pianists become successful recording artists and are well known to people who are not devotees of classical music in general.
During the Classical era, many prominent composers wrote operas that are performed by singers who are accompanied by orchestras. As with concert pianists, the most famous opera singers often become well known outside the operatic realm, and many are among the highest earners among classical musicians. Less-established opera singers often join operatic companies that regularly perform shows, but the major roles usually reserved are for more established performers who make guest appearances alongside the full-time members of the operatic ensemble.