As Vienna’s cultural ambassador and premier concert orchestra, the Wiener Symphoniker handles the lion’s share of symphonic activity that makes up the musical life of the Austrian capital. The preservation of the traditional, Viennese orchestral sound occupies a central place in the orchestra’s various artistic pursuits.
The end of the nineteenth century was precisely the right time to establish a new Viennese orchestra for the purpose of presenting orchestral concerts with broad appeal, on the one hand, and to meet the need for first performances and premieres of contemporary works, on the other. In October 1900, the newly formed Wiener Concertverein, as it was called back then, gave its first public performance at the Vienna Musikverein with Ferdinand Löwe on the podium.
The Wiener Symphoniker has premiered works that are now undisputed staples of the orchestral repertoire, including Anton Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony, Arnold Schönberg’s Gurre-Lieder, Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, and Franz Schmidt’s The Book with Seven Seals. Over the course of its history, conducting greats like Bruno Walter, Richard Strauss, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Oswald Kabasta, George Szell and Hans Knappertsbusch have left an indelible mark on the orchestra. In later decades, Herbert von Karajan (1950-1960) and Wolfgang Sawallisch (1960-1970) were the Chief Conductors who moulded the sound of the orchestra most significantly. After the brief return of Josef Krips, the position of Chief Conductor was filled by Carlo Maria Giulini and Gennadij Roshdestvensky. Georges Prêtre was Chief Conductor from 1986 to 1991. Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos and Vladimir Fedoseyev then assumed leadership of the orchestra. Fabio Luisi assumed the position of Chief Conductor and Artistic Director at the start of the 2005-06 season, his successor in 2014-15 will be Philippe Jordan.
Leading lights who have enjoyed notable success as guests on the podium of the Wiener Symphoniker include Leonard Bernstein, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Claudio Abbado and Sergiu Celibidache.
The Wiener Symphoniker appears in more than 150 concerts and operatic performances per season, the vast majority of which take place in Vienna’s well-known concert venues, the Musikverein and the Konzerthaus. Added to that is a very busy and extensive touring schedule. Since 1946, the Wiener Symphoniker has been the orchestra in residence at the Bregenzer Festspiele, where it also plays the majority of operatic and symphonic performances. The orchestra also took on a new challenge at the beginning of 2006: That’s when the Theater an der Wien became a functioning opera house again, and the orchestra has been responsible for a significant number of productions ever since.
© Lukas Beck