• Founded 1962
Often appears with
Founded as a Baroque chamber group, the Gulbenkian Orchestra expanded to symphonic size and begun to perform the music of various periods. The orchestra's activities are now international in scope.
The Gulbenkian Orchestra (Orquestra Gulbenkian) has had various names. It was founded in 1962 in Lisbon, Portugal, as the Orquestra de Câmara Gulbenkian or Gulbenkian Chamber Orchestra, and was known for some years as the Gulbenkian Foundation Orchestra, Lisbon. The orchestra was established with support from a bequest left by Calouste Gulbenkian, an oil magnate and financier who established an arts-oriented charitable foundation in his adopted city of Lisbon. At first, the Gulbenkian Orchestra had 12 members, including a Baroque continuo group, but it grew to its present size of 66 players. That enabled the group to extend its repertory forward into the 19th century; it has also performed contemporary music. In Classical and early Romantic repertory, the orchestra stresses orchestral balances that are closer to what composers would have imagined, although the players do not use historical instruments. The orchestra is associated with a Gulbenkian Choir (led by longtime director Michel Corboz) and Gulbenkian Ballet.
From the beginning, the Gulbenkian had a reputation as a high-quality small orchestra, and almost all of its principal conductors have been from outside Portugal. Conductors with long tenures have included Claudio Scimone (1979-1986), Muhai Tang (1988-2001), and Lawrence Foster (2002-2013); since 2018, the principal conductor has been Lorenzo Viotti. The orchestra's concert home is the Grand Auditorium of the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, but it also performs around Portugal and on international tours that have included Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
The Gulbenkian Orchestra has a long history of recordings. In the 1960s and 1970s, the orchestra's LPs were staples of the mail-order catalog of the Musical Heritage Society. More recently, the group made new albums almost annually and has recorded for Nimbus, PentaTone Classics, and Naxos, among other labels. In 2019, the orchestra issued a contemporary Portuguese work on Naxos, Vasco Mendonça's Step Right Up.