The Philharmonia Orchestra is one of the world’s great orchestras. Widely acknowledged as one of the UK’s foremost musical pioneers, and with an extraordinary recording legacy, the Philharmonia leads the field for its quality of playing, and for its innovative approach to residencies, audience development, music education and the use of new technologies in reaching a global audience. Together with its relationships with the world’s most sought-after artists, most importantly its Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Philharmonia Orchestra is at the heart of British musical life.
Today, the Philharmonia has the greatest claim of any to be the UK’s national orchestra, committed to presenting the same quality, live music-making in venues throughout the country as it brings to London and the great concert halls of the world. In 2015 the Orchestra celebrated its 70th birthday and the 20th anniversary of the foundation of its residency programme, which began in 1995 with the launch of its residencies at London’s Southbank Centre and Bedford’s Corn Exchange. The Orchestra also has long-term partnerships with De Montfort Hall in Leicester (Resident Orchestra since 1997), the Anvil in Basingstoke (Orchestra in Partnership since 2001), and, more recently, at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury and Three Choirs Festival (Resident Orchestra).
The Orchestra performs more than 160 concerts a year, as well as recording music for films, computer games and commercial audio releases. Under Esa-Pekka Salonen a series of flagship, visionary projects at the Royal Festival Hall, where the Orchestra performs 40 concerts a season, have been critically acclaimed. City of Light: Paris 1900-1950 (2015), City of Dreams: Vienna 1900 -1935 (2009), Bill Viola’s Tristan und Isolde (2010), Infernal Dance: Inside the World of Béla Bartók (2011) and Woven Words, a celebration of Witold Lutos?awski’s centenary year (2013), are followed in 2016 by Stravinsky: Myths and Rituals, a major, five-concert festival of music by Igor Stravinsky. Further highlights in the Orchestra’s 70th anniversary London season have included a three-concert series of Salonen conducting star pianist Lang Lang; Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting Rachmaninov’s major orchestral works; Andris Nelsons conducting Bruckner Symphony No. 8 as part of his ongoing Bruckner Cycle; and Paavo Järvi continuing his acclaimed Nielsen Cycle. The Orchestra’s London programme includes two ambitious strands of free early-evening concerts in the Royal Festival Hall: the long-running Music of Today series, programmed by Korean composer Unsuk Chin, who is Artistic Director; and the chamber music recital series, programmed and performed by members of the Orchestra.
The Philharmonia has a busy international touring schedule, with recent major series in Taiwan and Japan with Esa-Pekka Salonen, a tour to China with Vladimir Ashkenazy, and concerts in Iceland, France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Poland. The Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen take up residence at the 2016 Festival International d'Art Lyrique d'Aix-en-Provence, including two concerts from the Stravinsky: Myths & Rituals series.
During its first seven decades, the Philharmonia Orchestra collaborated with most of the great classical artists of the 20th century. Conductors associated with the Orchestra include Furtwängler, Richard Strauss, Toscanini, Cantelli, Karajan and Giulini. Otto Klemperer was the first of many outstanding Principal Conductors, and other great names have included Lorin Maazel (Associate Principal Conductor), Sir Charles Mackerras (Principal Guest Conductor), Riccardo Muti (Principal Conductor and Music Director), Kurt Sanderling (Conductor Emeritus) and Giuseppe Sinopoli (Music Director). As well as Esa-Pekka Salonen, current titled conductors are Christoph von Dohnányi (formerly Principal Conductor, now Honorary Conductor for Life) and Vladimir Ashkenazy (Conductor Laureate). Since 1945 the Orchestra has been an active commissioner of new music: more than 100 new works from composers including Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Sir James MacMillan.
Throughout its history, the Philharmonia Orchestra has been committed to finding new ways to bring its top-quality live performances to audiences worldwide, and to using new technologies to achieve this. Many millions of people since 1945 have enjoyed their first experience of classical music through a Philharmonia recording, and today audiences engage with the Orchestra through computer games, film scores and its YouTube and Vimeo channels, featuring award-winning documentary films. In May 2010 the Orchestra’s digital project RE-RITE was launched in London, and then toured the UK and internationally. Devised with Esa-Pekka Salonen, RE-RITE, secured the Philharmonia’s position as a digital innovator. Its follow-up audio-visual installation, Universe of Sound: The Planets, premièred at the Science Museum in spring 2012. Both installations were at the heart of a major two-year audience development and education initiative, iOrchestra, which took place in South-West England during 2014 and 2015, and which engaged over 120,000 people. The project also featured a pop-up interactive digital music installation, MusicLab, housed in a mobile trailer, which uses the latest technologies to create a series of hands-on musical games and interactions. The Orchestra won the RPS Award for Audiences and Engagement in 2010, 2012 and 2014 (and Creative Communication Award in 2010) for these projects.
The Philharmonia’s Education work sits at the centre of the life and wider work of the Orchestra. The department’s work falls into four distinct strands – Schools and Young People, Communities and Family, Explore, and the Emerging Talent programme, reaching tens of thousands of people every year. Examples of this work include instrumental projects with Music Hub partners; Key Stage 2 concerts Orchestra Unwrapped; intergenerational creative music-making community project Hear and Now in Bedford; a large-scale community commission to celebrate the finding of King Richard III’s remains in Leicester called The Last Plantagenet; a pioneering urban-classical project called Symphonize in Leicester; and The Firebird, an award-winning collaborative schools project working across Hounslow and Richmond boroughs.
The Philharmonia’s Emerging Talent programme includes the Composers Academy, linked to Music of Today, and the Martin Musical Scholarship Fund, which has for many years supported talented musicians at the start of their careers. In 2016/17, the Orchestra relaunches the scheme as the Philharmonia MMSF Instrumental Fellowship Programme – an enhanced offer for young musicians, supporting instrumentalists seeking an orchestral career and connecting them to the wider life of the Philharmonia and the expertise within its membership.
Recording and broadcasting both continue to play a significant part in the Orchestra’s activities, notably through its partnership with Signum Records, releasing new live recordings of Philharmonia performances with its key conductors. Recent releases include the completion of Lorin Maazel’s Mahler Cycle, and Bruckner Symphony No. 9 conducted by Christoph von Dohnányi, recorded live at the 2014 Salzburg Festival. Since 2003 the Philharmonia has enjoyed a major partnership with Classic FM, as The Classic FM Orchestra on Tour, as well as continuing to broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
The Philharmonia’s Principal International Partner is Wuliangye.