Founded in 1882 by a group of independent musicians - Berliner Philharmoniker roughly translates as "The Berlin Music Appreciation Society" – the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra has remained a self-directed ensemble to this day. From the outset it has been one of the world’s most important orchestras, and has been led by a series of internationally renowned conductors. Hans Von Bulow was its first conductor, followed by Arthur Nikisch, Wilhelm Furtwängler and Sergiu Celibidache. In 1955, the musicians of the orchestra chose Herbert von Karajan as their new artistic director. During the years that followed, Karajan and the orchestra fashioned a new and unique sound as well as a performance standard that brought the Berlin Philharmonic worldwide fame. The tours they undertook and the recordings they have made also contributed to the reputation of the group, each of whose members is a distinguished soloist.

In 1963, the orchestra inaugurated the magnificent Philharmonic Auditorium that Hans Scharoun designed for them, and which has been their home in the German capital city ever since. When Karajan founded the Salzburg Festival in 1967, the orchestra immediately began to take part in the event, performing works from the opera repertoire. Claudio Abbado, the conductor from 1990 to 2002, expanded the orchestra’s repertoire with his emphasis on contemporary music, new chamber music works, and concerts versions of operas. Sir Simon Rattle became the orchestra’s latest conductor in September 2002. His arrival coincided with the beginning of an educational programme known as Zukunft@Bphil, whose aim is to bring music to wider audiences and which gives special attention to young audiences.

The Berlin Philharmonic became a foundation in 2002, and receives generous support from the Deutsche Bank, its principal sponsor. Since 2006 the orchestra has been in residence at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. In this setting, besides its performance of the Ring cycle, directed by Sir Simon Rattle, the orchestra takes part in numerous pedagogical projects and in the Académie Européenne de Musique. In November 2007 the Orchestra and Sir Rattle became Ambassadors for UNICEF.