The Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra has played a key role in Finnish musical life, from the late 19th century, when it began to give the premiere performances of the symphonies of Jean Sibelius, down to the present day. It was the first permanent orchestra in Scandinavia and has operated without a pause since its founding.
The orchestra was founded in 1882 as the Helsinki Orchestral Society, with the support of prosperous Helsinki merchants. It later merged with the rival Helsinki Symphony Orchestra and took its present name. The orchestra's home base is the Helsinki Music Centre.
It was the Orchestral Society that embodied the group's tradition: it was under the baton of founder Robert Kajanus, who remained chief conductor for five decades and brought Sibelius' orchestral music to the world. The group's record of Sibelius premieres has extended into the 21st century: in 2011 the orchestra was the first to perform fragmentary sketches the composer left for his destroyed Symphony No. 8.
In 1932 Kajanus was succeeded by Georg Schneevoigt, who also had led the orchestra during World War I. With Sergiu Comissiona (1990-1993) as one of just a few exceptions, most of the orchestra's conductors have been Scandinavian. Several have gone on to significant international careers. Notable conductors who passed through Helsinki on the way to international capitals have included Paavo Berglund (1975-1979) and Leif Segerstam (1995-2007). In the 21st century, after Berglund, the orchestra's conductors have been John Storgårds (2008-2014, including a Gramophone Award-winning album of music by Einojuhani Rautavaara in 2007) and Susanna Mälkki, its first female leader. Her contract is slated to run through 2021.
The Helskini Philharmonic has frequently recorded for Finland's Ondine and Finlandia labels, with some recordings also appearing on Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, and Warner Classics. The Helsinki Region Infoshare Database includes information on every concert given by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and its predecessors since 1882.