The BERLINER PHILHARMONIKER was founded in 1882 as a self-governing body and has long been considered one of the world’s finest orchestras. Its current artistic director is Sir Simon Rattle, who took up his appointment in September 2002.
The orchestra gave its first concert on 17 October 1882 under the conductor Ludwig von Brenner, who was chosen by the musicians themselves. The concert agent Hermann Wolff took over the management of the orchestra and signed up the conductor Hans von Bu¨low, who went on to turn the Berliner Philharmoniker into one of the leading orchestras in Germany. Under Arthur Nikisch (1895–1922) its repertory grew to include works by Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Strauss, Ravel and Debussy. On Nikisch’s death, the then thirty-six-year-old Wilhelm Furtwängler took over as principal conductor. Furtwängler concentrated on the Classical and German Romantic repertories but also performed contemporary pieces by Stravinsky, Bartók and Prokofiev. At the end of the Second World War, Leo Borchard became the orchestra’s principal conductor, but, following his tragic death in August 1945 when he was accidentally shot by an American patrol, the young Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache became artistic director. Furtwängler was able to resume his old post as chief conductor following his denazification in 1952. The postwar period also saw the founding in 1949 of the Society of Friends of the Berlin Philharmonie, which in subsequent years sponsored the building of the new Philharmonie and continues to provide the hall with financial support.
When Furtwängler died in 1954, Herbert von Karajan became the permanent conductor and artistic director. During the decades that followed, Karajan worked with the orchestra to develop a unique tonal quality and performing style that made the Berliner Philharmoniker famous all over the world. In October 1989 the players appointed Claudio Abbado their new principal conductor. Abbado devised a new type of programme, contrasting traditional programmes with thematic cycles that included contemporary works alongside classical pieces. An increased number of chamber recitals and concert performances of operas lent further distinction and variety to the orchestra’s activities.
With the appointment of Sir Simon Rattle, the orchestra succeeded not only in obtaining the services of one of the most successful conductors of the younger generation but in introducing a number of important innovations. The orchestra’s change of status to a charitable foundation (the Stiftung Berliner Philharmoniker) has created new opportunities and ensured the economic future of a body of players that currently has 129 full-time members. The foundation is supported by the generosity of its principal sponsor, Deutsche Bank. Central to this support are the orchestra’s education programme Zukunft@BPhil, which was set up at the time of Sir Simon Rattle’s appointment and which is intended to ensure that the orchestra reaches a broader and above all younger audience, and the Digital Concert Hall. Within the long history of the Berliner Philharmoniker – now 126 years – this signifies an important expansion of the orchestra’s cultural mission, one to which it commits itself with a characteristic unswerving dedication. In recognition of this commitment, the Berliner Philharmoniker and its artistic director Sir Simon Rattle in November 2007 were named international UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors, the first time this distinction has ever been bestowed upon an artistic ensemble.