London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, not to be confused with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, is one of the country’s leading ensembles and one of the world’s most frequently recorded orchestras. During its seven decades, the Philharmonia has attracted a dedicated world-wide audience as a result of their numerous recordings and projects using digital technology. In its seven-decade existence, the Philharmonia Orchestra has attracted and performed with many of the greatest artists of the 20th century.
The Philharmonia Orchestra was founded in 1945 by the EMI producer Walter Legge. Uniquely, the orchestra is self-governing, and has been since 1964. The orchestra is comprised of 80 members, all of which are owners.Otto Klemperer served as the Philharmonia Orchestra’s first Principal Conductor. Other conductors associated with the orchestra have includedFurtwängler, Richard Strauss, Toscanini, Cantelli, Karajan, Giulini, Lorin Maazel, Sir Charles Mackerras, Riccardo Muti and Kurt Sanderling. Since 2008, the Finnish conductor and composerEsa-Pekka Salonen has served as both Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor. Currently,Jakub Hrůša and Santtu-Matias Rouvali hold the Principal Guest Conductor Positions. Honorary Conductor positions are occupied by Christoph von Dohnányi andVladimir Ashkenazy.
Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall in London has been home to the Philharmonia Orchestra since 1995. The orchestra presents more than 50 concerts annually at Festival Hall. Additionally, they perform throughout the UK, especially at their various residencies at Bedford’s Corn Exchange, De Montfort Hall in Leicester, The Marlowe in Canterbury, The Anvil in Basingstoke (Orchestra in Partnership), Three Choirs Festival, and Garsington Opera. At each of their Residencies, the Philharmonia Education team provides educational programmes, serving to allow all people an opportunity ‘to engage and participate in orchestral music’.
In addition to the Philharmonic Orchestra’s traditional concert series, they also have several other series including Philharmonia at the Movies, the Philharmonia Chamber Players and the Insights Talks programme. Composer Unsuk Chin is the Artistic Director of the newest series, Music of Today.
Recent critically-acclaimed projects have included Bill Viola’s Tristan und Isolde (2010), Infernal Dance: Inside the World of Béla Bartók (2011), City of Light: Paris 1900-1950 (2015) and the South Bank Sky Arts Award-winning five-concert series, Stravinsky: Myths & Rituals (2016). In the 2017-2018 season, honorary conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy will lead a series focusing on the 100th anniversary of the Soviet Revolution in Voices of Revolution: Russia 1917.
The Philharmonic Orchestra has made many international tours across Europe, Asia and the USA. Recent tours include the U.S. (West Coast) in the autumn of 2016 and Tawain and Japan in the spring of 2017. In the summer of 2016, the Philharmonia Orchestra had a residency at Festival d’Aix-en-Provence.
During the opening month of the 2017 season, the Philharmonia Orchestra will give a five-concert European tour with Salonen and Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto. During this tour, the orchestra will perform for the first time at Hamburg’s new Elbphilharmonie.
The Philharmonia Orchestra’s recordings are numerous. Currently, they record and release their performances on various forms of media. In addition to CDs and digital album releases, they have developed an app for the iPad that has been sold ‘tens of thousands’ of times. The orchestra is also broadcast regularly on BBC Radio 3 and is Classic FM’s ‘Orchestra on Tour’. Many live concerts are released on the Signum Records label. In addition to promising album and app sales, the Philharmonia Orchestra has its own YouTube channel—with approximately 50,000 subscribers.
Recent releases include an album of the Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s works, including the Flute Concerto, Clarinet Concerto and the Aladdin Suite (March 2017). In September 2016, the Philharmonia Orchestra released their second album in the Bela Bartók series, Infernal Dance. In this sequel, The Miraculous Mandarin, Dance Suite and Contrasts are featured.
Recent innovative projects include the virtual reality project, 360 Experience, which was produced with 3D audio and video technology. 360 Experience has been shown at Southbank Centre, the Ravinia Festival in Chicago and the Cheltenham Festival. An extended 15-minute version of the 360 Experience was released earlier in 2017 on the PlayStationVR platform. In September 2017, this extended version will be presented at Festival Hall, free of charge.
Other projects have included RE-RITE (2010, based on Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring) and Universe of Sound: The Planets (2012). These giant audio-visual walk-through installations were first presented in London before touring both nationally and internationally. In 2014-15, the orchestra presented iOrchestra in South-West England, attracting more than 120,000 people.
In 2016, the Philharmonia Orchestra (in partnership with Southbank Centre) presented The Virtual Orchestra, a free two-week series in the public spaces of Royal Festival Hall. All of their previous installations were present, along with a VR presentation and a ‘high-impact participation programme’ and a special concert.
These cross-platform projects have earned the Philharmonia Orchestra four Royal Philharmonic Society awards. More importantly, these projects have ensured the Philharmonia’s relevance in today’s society.
In partnership with Music Hub partners, the Philharmonia Orchestra gives Key Stage 2 concerts and presents the programmeOrchestra Unwrapped. They also have a programme for people suffering from dementia and their caretakers, entitled Hear and Now. Furthermore, their urban-classical project Symphonize has been developed for vulnerable teenagers. Many opportunities for students are available in Leicester, through a major partnership with De Montfort University.
Other programmes include Emerging Artists, which serves to ‘develop the next generation of composers and instrumentalists’. Additionally, the Philharmonia has a Composers’ Academy, which champions three up-and-coming composers per year. Young instrumentalists are supported through the Philharmonia MMSF Instrumental Fellowship Programme, which helps them explore an orchestra career.
Image credit: Keith Saunders, Benjamin Ealovega, Felix Broede, Cassandra Hamilton