• ©hr (Tim Wegner)
  • ©Bayerische Staatsoper (Wilfried Hösl)
  • ©Peter Eberts

Classical orchestras – a grand tradition

There are currently around 50 grand symphony orchestras in Germany – and about as many chamber and youth orchestras. The history of these ensembles goes back decades, if not centuries. Great composers, conductors and soloists have all contributed to the success of Germany's orchestras.
Berlin Philharmonic

The Berlin Philharmonic, which has won more international awards – including nine Grammys – than any other German symphony orchestra, was formed in 1882 by a group of Berlin amateur musicians. Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Grieg were among its first guest conductors. Its home since 1963 has been the Philharmonie near the Tiergarten. The Berlin Philharmonic enjoys global renown as pioneers of the CD era (under Herbert von Karajan) and as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador (under Sir Simon Rattle).

Bavarian State Orchestra

The Bavarian State Orchestra, which plays for the state opera and the state ballet, is Munich's oldest orchestra, with its roots in the Munich court orchestra of the 16th century. A first opera performance in 1653, four Wagner premieres and the introduction of the Munich Opera Festival in 1875 are just three illustrations of its distinguished history. The orchestra's current general music director is American conductor Kent Nagano, who will be succeeded by Kirill Petrenko in 2013.

Bamberg Symphony Orchestra

The Bamberg Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1946 by war refugees, among them former orchestral musicians from Prague. Joseph Keilberth, who had himself worked in Prague, became the orchestra's first chief conductor. From the inaugural concert onwards, he set a musical standard that far exceeded expectations in a town of only 70,000 people. The orchestra gave its first performance abroad in 1949, was invited to perform in the USA in 1954 and to date has over 100 concerts in Japan to its name.

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

Founded in 1949, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra has been named one of the world's finest orchestras on several occasions. It owes much of its reputation to the Musica Viva contemporary music festival founded by K.A. Hartmann and innumerable first performances of new works. High-profile chief conductors such as Eugen Jochum, Rafael Kubelik, Sir Colin Davis, Lorin Maazel and the current incumbent Mariss Jansons have always guaranteed music of the highest quality.

NDR Symphony Orchestra

The NDR Symphony Orchestra, Radio Hamburg's inhouse orchestra, was established in 1945. By 1950 it was making its first guest appearance abroad. Big-name chief conductors such as Klaus Tennstedt, Günter Wand, John Eliot Gardiner, Christoph Eschenbach and Christoph Dohnanyi in turn maintained consistently high standards. The orchestra regularly performs not only in the Laeiszhalle but also at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival and in concert series in Lübeck, Kiel and Wismar. Its new home will be the Elbe Philharmonic Hall.

Hessen Radio Symphony Orchestra

The Frankfurt Radio Orchestra, which later became the Hessen Radio Symphony Orchestra, was established in 1929. Even in the early days, it was strongly committed to contemporary music, giving the first performance of works by Hindemith, Weill, Schoenberg, Strauss and Bartók, and resolutely continuing this tradition after the Second World War. Thanks to the orchestra's long-serving chief conductor Eliahu Inbal and his current successor Paavo Järvi, the music of Bruckner and Mahler has also been given great prominence in Frankfurt.

Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra

The history of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra dates back to 1945, when the then American-run Stuttgart Radio acquired its own orchestra. In addition to high-calibre chief conductors such as Sergiu Celibidache, Sir Neville Marriner and Sir Roger Norrington, there have been many famous guest conductors including the composers Stravinsky, Boulez and Penderecki. The Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra regularly performs at the Schwetzingen Festival and has frequently travelled to Asia, its 2010 tour being its ninth visit.

MDR Symphony Orchestra

The orchestra was established in 1923 and began working with the recently launched local radio station the following year. In 1946 it became the MDR Radio Orchestra, one of whose functions was to play for the former East Germany's DEFA films. The orchestra has enjoyed a glittering history, performing premieres of works by Weill, Dessau, Penderecki and Stockhausen and receiving numerous awards for its recordings. Today the MDR Symphony Orchestra can be heard at the Gewandhaus concert hall, the MDR Summer of Music and around the city of Leipzig.

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