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The Philharmonia Orchestra (1945 – 1964)
The Philharmonia Orchestra made its début on 27 October 1945, conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham, a close friend of the Orchestra’s founder, Walter Legge. The world of classical music quickly took the Orchestra to its heart; two years after it was founded, Richard Strauss conducted the Orchestra, and entrusted it, in 1950, with the world première of the Four Last Songs. Legendary conductors came to work with the Orchestra from the very beginning, including, in 1948, three of the world's greatest in just one month: Otto Klemperer, Wilhelm Furtwangler and Herbert von Karajan.
In the fifties, audiences relished the impact of Toscanini, Guido Cantelli and Carlo Maria Giulini, as well as Wolfgang Sawallisch and Lorin Maazel. When the Royal Festival Hall was inaugurated in 1951, Philharmonia players took to the stage, and later that year it made the first ever recording of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. In the summer of 1954, the Orchestra was invited to become Orchestra-in-Residence at the Lucerne Festival, then the most prestigious of the continental music festivals. At the end of the first two decades, the Orchestra successfully resisted being disbanded by Legge and, with the support of Otto Klemperer, reconvened in 1964 as the New Philharmonia Orchestra.
The New Philharmonia (1964 – 1976)
The status of the New Philharmonia was confirmed early in the next period of its life when Igor Stravinsky conducted them in a concert of his own works, and Sir John Barbirolli, Sir Adrian Boult, Claudio Abbado, Wolfgang Sawallisch and Pierre Boulez also directed the Orchestra. In 1969 Lorin Maazel accepted the post of Associate Principal Conductor, later becoming Principal Guest Conductor and Klemperer was still very much involved in the Orchestra’s life until his retirement in 1972.
The Martin Musical Scholarship Fund was set up in 1968, named after its founder and administered by the Philharmonia, which has since assisted many musicians including Steven Isserlis, Kennedy and Tasmin Little. The early seventies saw Maxim Shostakovich conduct the British première of his father’s Fifteenth Symphony, and débuts from Riccardo Muti (becoming Principal Conductor in 1972 and eventually Music Director), Mstislav Rostropovich, Andrew Davis and Sir Simon Rattle, as well as the eventual return to the original name of Philharmonia Orchestra.
The Philharmonia again (1976 – 1994)
An innovation of the late seventies was the development of the idea of community involvement, and this first took place in Nottingham in 1976 with teaching, masterclasses and lectures over four days as well as concerts. A similar venture was repeated in 1978, but lack of funding prevented any further collaborations. 1977 saw the conducting début of Vladimir Ashkenazy, a relationship that has continued to this day with his position of Conductor Laureate, and Yevgeny Svetlanov. HRH The Prince of Wales became the Orchestra's Patron in 1979, and the Orchestra played at his wedding in 1981.
The eighties brought to the Orchestra for the first time Giuseppe Sinopoli, Kurt Sanderling, Bernard Haitink, Mariss Jansons, Sir Roger Norrington and Esa-Pekka Salonen. The first Music of Today concert took place at St John’s Smith Square in 1980, with Lutoslawski conducting his own Second Symphony. In 1982, Hazel Westbury founded the Friends of the Philharmonia, which soon became very successful and there are now over 1,500 Friends in London and across the UK.
Touring became an increasingly significant part of the Orchestra's work, including tours of Japan, USA, Canada and Australia with Ashkenazy; USA, Germany, Italy and Japan, including the joint opening with the Berlin Philharmonic of the Suntory Hall in Tokyo, with Sinopoli; and a tour to Spain and the Canary Isles conducted by Placido Domingo. With the advent of CDs in the late eighties, the Orchestra was kept very busy re-recording standard repertoire – at one point undertaking 250 sessions in a single year. In 1991, James MacMillan was appointed Visiting Composer and a new Music of Today series was launched, which is now, in 2011, in its first year under Artistic Director Unsuk Chin. Sinopoli resigned from the Orchestra in 1994 and was replaced as Principal Guest Conductor by Christoph von Dohnányi, who became Principal Conductor in 1997.
The Orchestra gained its first Residency in 1990, which was at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, to start in 1993, and this was to be followed within a few years by other important Residencies.
1995 was a major year for Residencies for the Philharmonia. As a result of an invitation from Bedford Borough Council, the Orchestra performed at the Corn Exchange with Sawallisch in May, marking the start of its Residency there that includes a variety of education projects as well as a series of concerts throughout the year. In the summer, the Philharmonia was invited by the South Bank Board to become Resident Orchestra alongside the London Philharmonic Orchestra at Southbank Centre, where the Orchestra now presents around 40 concerts a year.
Another residency began in 1997 at Leicester’s De Montfort Hall, where the average attendance of concerts has virtually doubled since the Orchestra’s arrival. Further collaborations including Orchestra in Partnership at the Anvil, Basingstoke since 2000; and most recently, a residency in Canterbury and throughout Kent.
2000 saw the first Family Music Day event at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank. A great success, these bi-annual mornings of combining informal workshops and an orchestral concert now sell out within days of going on sale, and have also been taken to the residencies in Bedford, Leicester and Canterbury. Touring is still an important part of the Orchestra’s life, and recent visits include Russia, Japan, the USA and the Far East as well as most of Western Europe.
Sir Charles Mackerras accepted the position of Principal Guest Conductor in 2002, a position which he held until his death in 2010. In 2005 the Orchestra celebrated its 60th Anniversary Year with a series of major events and innovations, including the first ever fully interactive webcast by a UK orchestra, the first podcast by a UK orchestra, and becoming the first classical music organisation ever to be shortlisted for the BT Digital Music Awards, competing with Live 8 and Stereophonics. In 2006 the Orchestra members voted unanimously in support of a historic agreement to record its live concerts for both audio and video and make them available as downloads, through mobile phones, podcasts, webcasts, and on DVD and CD-ROM. These recordings are now available on download and, in partnership with Signum Records, on CD, and can all be purchased from the Philharmonia Online Shop.
In September 2008 Esa-Pekka Salonen became the Philharmonia Orchestra's Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor, succeeding Christoph von Dohnányi, who took on the role of Honorary Conductor for Life. Highlights of Salonen's early tenure in the role included a major multi-disclipinary project City of Dreams, exploring the music and culture of Vienna between 1900 and 1935, which travelled to 18 cities around Europe during 2009.