Soon after its establishment in 1888, the Concertgebouw Orchestra developed into one of the best orchestras in Europe. “Really magnificent, full of youthful vigor and enthusiasm,” as Richard Strauss described it in 1897. The Orchestra was granted Royal status in 1988. It has made more than a thousand recordings and is regarded worldwide as one of the most prestigious symphony orchestras. The fact that it has been led by only a limited number of chief conductors has played a decisive role in this development.
The ROYAL CONCERTGEBOUW ORCHESTRA has gained its unique international position with its ‘velvet’ strings, ‘golden’ brass, and the exceptional and personal timbre of the woodwinds. The musicians are the guardians of the playing culture that gives the Orchestra its unique sound and flexibility. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra consists of 120 virtuosos who perform together at the highest level.
During the fifty years of Willem Mengelberg’s reign, a wide variety of composers – R. Strauss, Mahler, Debussy, and Stravinsky – conducted the Concertgebouw Orchestra several times. Celebrities such as Bartók, Rachmaninoff, and Prokofiev performed their own works as soloists. This crucial bond with contemporary composers was continued with Maderna, Schat, Berio, Henze, Nono, Adams, and many others.
The Orchestra has gained international acclaim with its interpretations of late romantic repertoire. The Mahler tradition, embedded in the many performances Mahler conducted personally, achieved great heights during the Mahler Festivals in 1920 and 1995. Bernard Haitink made a huge impression with his complete recording of the Mahler symphonies and with the Christmas matinees. Bruckner, too, is a vital part of the Orchestra’s repertoire. After the war, it was Eduard van Beinum in particular who drew attention to French music and the Bruckner symphonies. With his interpretations in the concert hall and on CD recordings, Riccardo Chailly made a major contribution to contemporary music and opera. With Mariss Jansons, a new phase has just started. The orchestra will continue to develop its wide repertoire, with special attention to the music of such composers as Mahler, Bruckner, and Strauss, and also for the works of Shostakovich, whose 100th anniversary was celebrated in 2006 in a major project. In Mariss Jansons’ first two seasons as chief conductor, he has conducted a broad range of repertoire, extending from Haydn and Mozart to a new work by Henze.
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra has worked with many guest conductors, each of whom made a unique contribution to the development of the sound and the repertoire, including Arthur Nikisch, Karl Muck, Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, Pierre Monteux, Eugen Jochum, Karl Böhm, Herbert von Karajan, Georg Solti, George Szell, Carlos Kleiber, Leonard Bernstein, Colin Davis, Kurt Sanderling, Kirill Kondrashin, Carlo Maria Giulini, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Christian Thielemann, and honorary guest conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
The Concertgebouw, designed by the architect A.L. van Gendt, was inaugurated on April 11, 1888. Six months later, on November 3, 1888, the Concertgebouw Orchestra performed its first concert. The building quickly became famous for its magnificent acoustics. It was renovated during the 1980s when a new wing was added. Recently, the interior of the Great Hall was fully restored. For over a century it has been the center of classical music in the Netherlands. In 2005, attendance reached 814,158 visitors, making the Concertgebouw once again the world’s most well-attended concert venue.
RCO Live has been the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s own independent record label since 2004. RCO Live focuses on releasing live recordings made by the Orchestra at its home, the Concertgebouw. The catalog consists of recordings conducted by Mariss Jansons and leading guest conductors under whom the orchestra regularly performs. The works recorded include symphonic staples of the orchestra’s repertoire as well as new and lesser-known compositions. The RCO Live releases are distributed worldwide.
The six chief conductors (former and present) of the RCO are Willem Kes (1888-1895), Willem Mengelberg (1895-1945), Eduard van Beinum (1945-1959), Bernard Haitink (1959-1988), Riccardo Chailly (1988-2004), and Mariss Jansons (2004-present).
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is sponsored by ING Group, Philips, and Nuon.
Columbia Artists Management LLC
Tim Fox / Sara Overgaard