© Sébastien Erome
An offspring of the Société des Grands Concerts de Lyon, founded in 1905 by Georges Martin Witkowski, the National Orchestra of Lyon is justly proud of an illustrious past to which André Cluytens, Charles Munch, Paul Paray and Pierre Monteux in particular have contributed.
In 1969, following the initiative of the Lyon authorities and on the occasion of the setting up of the regional orchestras by Marcel Landowski, it became a permanent orchestra with 102 musicians as the Orchestre Philharmonique Rhône-Alpes, with Louis Frémaux as its first musical director (1969-1971). From then on the orchestra was run and supported financially by the City of Lyon, which in 1975 provided it with a concert hall, the Lyon Auditorium. This hall, one of the largest in France with seating for 2,100 people, has enjoyed remarkable acoustics since its total renovation. Since the Opéra de Lyon Orchestra was founded in 1983, the renamed Orchestre national de Lyon (ONL) has devoted itself to symphonic repertoire.
Taking over from Louis Frémaux in 1971, Serge Baudo was in charge of the Orchestra until 1986 and made it a musical force to be reckoned with far beyond its home region. Under the leadership of Emmanuel Krivine, musical director from 1987 until 2000, the orchestra won still further international recognition. From September 2000 until June 2004, David Robertson was the musical director and artistic director for the Auditorium, confirming the orchestra’s standing.
In September 2005 Jun Märkl took over from him as musical director. With three tours to Japan in the 1990s, led by Emmanuel Krivine, in November 2007 with Jun Märkl the orchestra returns to give nine concerts, two of which will be held in Tokyo. The orchestra has played in the United States on several occasions, in particular for two concerts at Carnegie Hall, in 2003, conducted by David Robertson. The orchestra is regularly invited to take part in the BBC Proms season in London, in the Chorégies Summer Festival in Orange and at the Cité de la musique in Paris, and performed in Vienna in February 2007. Since the Pleyel concert hall (Paris) reopened, the orchestra has performed a concert there every season.
In December 2010, Leonard Slatkin becomes the musical director of the orchestra. The American conductor, who also is the musical director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, plans on recording albums with the Orchestre national de Lyon, and go on tour with them.
The orchestra has worked with many famous artists such as Martha Argerich, Jessye Norman, Kristian Zimerman, Radu Lupu, Yo-Yo Ma, Vadim Repin, Maxim Vengerov, Evgeni Kissin, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Gil Shaham, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Tabea Zimmermann. It has also welcomed great composers such as Luciano Berio and Krzysztof Penderecki. The orchestra has also given the first performances in France, in Europe and even in the world of works from the greatest composers of our time, amongst them Pierre André Dalbavie and Thierry Escaich, who will be resident composer with the orchestra for three seasons starting from September 2007.
The richness of the orchestra’s repertoire can be seen in its huge discography, including a boxed set to commemorate the orchestra’s centenary in 2005. Following their respective cities which for many years now have had close relationships through town twinning, the ONL, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Radio-Sinfonie-Orchester Frankfurt have decided to forge closer links by setting up a musical partnership. In place since autumn 2004, this project has now grown to include the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra (Katowice). This is part of the Euroregion structure of cooperation as links are formed not between capital cities but between major cities which lay claim to exceptional cultural and economic dynamism. As a City of Lyon institution, the Orchestre National de Lyon is subsidised by the Ministry of Culture and the Rhône-Alpes region.