The Berliner Philharmoniker, founded in 1882 as a self-governing body, has long been esteemed as one of the world’s greatest orchestras. Sir Simon Rattle has served as its artistic director since September 2002.
The orchestra gave its first concert on 17 October 1882 under conductor Ludwig von Brenner, who was chosen by the musicians themselves. Five years later, impresario Hermann Wolff, the orchestra’s financial manager from its inception, engaged as its new chief Hans von Bülow, who rapidly brought the Berliner Philharmoniker into the first rank of German ensembles. Under the leadership of Arthur Nikisch (from 1895 to 1922), the orchestra’s repertoire grew substantially, embracing works by Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Strauss, Ravel and Debussy. After Nikisch’s death, the 36-year-old Wilhelm Furtwängler became the orchestra’s new principal conductor. His specialties were Classicism and German Romanticism, but he also included in his programmes contemporary compositions by Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Bartók and Prokofiev. Immediately after the war, when Furtwängler was forced to relinquish his position, Leo Borchard was appointed philharmonic conductor. Through a tragic misunderstanding in August 1945, Borchard was shot by an American sentry. His successor was the young Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache. Furtwängler was formally allowed to return as principal conductor in 1952 following his denazification. Also dating from the postwar years was the founding in 1949 of the Society of Friends of the Berlin Philharmonie e. V., which was instrumental in the building of the orchestra’s new home and continues to support the Philharmonie and the activities of the Berliner Philharmoniker.
Upon Furtwängler’s death in 1954, Herbert von Karajan became the orchestra’s permanent conductor and artistic director. In the ensuing decades he worked with the orchestra to develop a unique tonal quality and performing style that made the Berliner Philharmoniker famous all over the world. Claudio Abbado, appointed the orchestra’s new chief conductor in October 1989, devised an approach contrasting traditional programmes with thematic cycles that included contemporary works alongside classical pieces. An increased number of chamber recitals and concert performances of opera lent further distinction and variety to the orchestra’s activities.
With Sir Simon Rattle’s appointment, the orchestra succeeded not only in recruiting one of the most successful conductors of the younger generation but also in introducing a further series of important innovations. The conversion of the orchestra into the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation under public law provided up-to-date structural conditions, allowing a broad range of opportunities for creative development while ensuring the ensemble’s economic viability. The foundation enjoys the generous support of Deutsche Bank, its principal sponsor. One focus of this sponsorship is the Education Programme, initiated when Sir Simon Rattle took the helm, by which means the orchestra is now reaching an ever wider and, especially, younger audience. In recognition of this commitment, the Pressestelle Berliner Philharmoniker and its artistic director Sir Simon Rattle were named UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors, the first time that distinction had ever been bestowed upon an artistic ensemble.
Its partnership with Deutsche Bank enabled the orchestra in January 2009 to launch its innovative Digital Concert Hall, which broadcasts the Berliner Philharmoniker’s concerts live over the Internet. In spring 2012 the Berliner Philharmoniker gave its last performance at the Salzburg Easter Festival. In spring 2013 the orchestra started with a new festival tradition: the Easter Festival of the Berliner Philharmoniker in Baden-Baden.
In May 2014 the Berliner Philharmoniker released one of the most important musical projects in recent years on their newly launched label, Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings: the complete symphonies of Robert Schumann, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. This release marks the first time the orchestra has been responsible for the technical and editorial presentation of its recordings. The most recent production published in April 2016 includes recordings of all the Beethoven symphonies with Sir Simon Rattle in an exclusive hardcover edition on five CDs and three Blu-ray discs as HD video, in uncompressed audio resolution and DTS surround sound.
During an orchestra assembly on 21 June 2015 Kirill Petrenko was elected by a large majority of the members of the Berliner Philharmoniker as the Chief Conductor Designate of the orchestra.
SIR SIMON RATTLE
Helena Madoka Berg
Luiz Felipe Coelho
Christoph von der Nahmer
Martin von der Nahmer
Joaquín Riquelme García
Prof. Michael Hasel
Stefan de Leval Jezierski
Prof. Christhard Gössling
Jesper Busk Sørensen
Prof. Stefan Schulz
Alexander von Puttkamer
(updated September 2016)