Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra (RSPO) celebrated its 110th anniversary in 2012 and, with its already rich history, continues to perform to international critical acclaim under its current Chief Conductor and Artistic Advisor Sakari Oramo. Oramo was appointed in 2008, with his present contract lasting until 2018.
Founded in 1902 as the Stockholm Concert Society, the orchestra became a permanent ensemble in 1914 and made its international debut in Norway in 1917 with first Chief Conductor, Georg Schnéevoigt. In 1933 the orchestra performed under Arturo Toscanini in Copenhagen and in 1937 appeared together with Jussi Björling at the World Exhibition in Paris. Other legendary artists and conductors who have performed with the orchestra both at home and abroad include Birgit Nilsson, Nicolai Gedda, Bruno Walter, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Leopold Stokowski, Ferenc Fricsay, Otto Klemperer, Rafael Kubelík, Sir Georg Solti and Rudolf Kempe who conducted the orchestra in 1975 with a young Gidon Kremer as soloist – the violinist’s first official concert outside the Soviet Union.
To date the orchestra has been led by 15 Principal Conductors including Vaclav Talich (1925-37), Fritz Busch (1937-1940), Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt (1955-1964), Antal Dorati (1966-1974) and Gennady Rozhdestvensky who directed the orchestra from 1974-1977 and returned in 1991 for a further four years.
It was with Antal Dorati that the RSPO began to make its more permanent mark on the international scene. Together they embarked on the ensemble’s first tour of the USA in 1968 and performed in East Europe (Prague, East Berlin, Dresden and Leipzig) in 1969. Dorati’s tenure came to an end in 1973 with a European tour and a grand finale at the Vienna Musikverein. Highlights which followed include the orchestra’s debut in the Soviet Union with Gennady Rozhdestvensky in 1979 and Japan in 1990 with Paavo Berglund, Principal Conductor 1987-1991.
A new phase of the orchestra’s history began in 1992 with its renaming to Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, bearing the patronage of the Swedish Royal family. Around this time the orchestra took on its role of hosting and performing the newly inaugurated Nobel Prize Concerts, which have now become an annual event at the Stockholm Concert Hall attended by both the Nobel Laureates and the Swedish Royal Family. Recent guest artists have included Yo-Yo Ma, Renée Fleming, Lang Lang, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Martha Argerich, Joshua Bell, Ray Chen, Christoph Eschenbach and Riccardo Muti.
Alan Gilbert’s hugely successful tenure as the orchestra’s 14th Principal Conductor received worldwide attention. Arriving in Stockholm in 2000 as a fairly unknown young conductor, his work resulted in eight acclaimed seasons of concerts and included various tours throughout Europe, Japan and the United States. A highlight of the collaboration is the thrilling interpretation of Mahler's Symphony No. 9 on BIS which won widespread critical acclaim. Alan Gilbert was also elected Conductor Laureate by the orchestra. On the departure of Gilbert to the New York Philharmonic the RSPO was delighted to invite Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo to join the orchestra and continue history in the making.
Since taking the helm in 2008 Sakari Oramo has recorded the complete Symphonies of Schumann for Sony Classics which the UK’s BBC Music Magazine described as “impressive accounts, with Oramo coaxing some outstanding playing from his fine Swedish orchestra". Further recent recordings have included CD releases with violinists Daniel Hope (Deutsche Grammophon) and Baiba Skride (Orfeo) and the DVD release of the 2010 Nobel Prize Concert with Joshua Bell as soloist (Accentus Music / Nobel Media).
The CD of four major orchestral works by Swedish composer Anders Hillborg (BIS) – conducted in turn by Sakari Oramo, Alan Gilbert and Esa Pekka Salonen – won a Swedish Grammy in 2012. Two of the works on this CD, “Dreaming River” and “Exquisite Corps”, were also commissioned and premiered by the orchestra. Leading British magazine Gramophone concluded: ”The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra is on splendid form throughout, led by conductors who have championed these works at home and abroad. BIS's SACD sound is typically spectacular, making this release very strongly recommended.”
The recordings of Edward Elgar's music, including the two symphonies (BIS), have been equally well received by international critics. ”There is no need to be concerned that a Finnish conductor and a Swedish orchestra do not ‘get’ Elgar’s music. They do – with power, passion, compassion and authority, the Stockholm Philharmonic, excellent in all departments, sporting a particularly distinguished horn section and a very personable principal oboist”, Classical Source on the 2013 issue of Elgar's Symphony No 2. ”Oramo and his Swedish players have given us the Elgar cycle for our time”, wrote Sinfini Music/UK on the 2014 issue of Elgar's Symphony No 1.
Recordings of the complete Carl Nielsen symphonies are to be out in 2015 (on BIS), and so far the CD of Nielsen 4 and 5 has been released. The Guardian gave it the highest recommendation (5/5), writing ”... the performances have an irresistible momentum. The opening movement of the Fourth, the Inextinguishable, is thrillingly urgent without ever sounding forced or rushed, and its slow movement grows naturally and inevitably to its apotheosis. The Fifth seems equally coherent; every facet of its tumultuous opening movement is carefully controlled and precisely paced, the second movement is joyously affirmative. In both symphonies the Stockholm orchestra responds wonderfully too.”
Recent year's highlights with Sakari Oramo have included a major Mahler Festival in Stockholm, a ten-concert tour of Japan in 2010 and a sold out performance at the 2011 London Proms championing a block-buster Nordic programme of Sibelius, Nielsen and Grieg which the Daily Telegraph described as “marvelous … the orchestra’s deftness and beautifully blended tone was a constant delight ...” Oramo took the orchestra to New York (Carnegie Hall) and Washington (The Kennedy Center) in February 2013 and the orchestra played the Dresden Festival in May 2013. 2013 also included a two concerts at the prestigeous George Enescu Festival in Bucharest.
The Stockholm Concert Hall has been home to the orchestra since it was inaugurated in 1926. Designed in the style of a classical Greek temple by one of Sweden’s most prolific architects, Ivar Tengbom, the hall was built in the heart of the city both for the orchestra and as an arena for the Nobel Prize Ceremony and other such formal occasions. In addition to a full season of concerts and the annual Nobel Prize Concert, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra presents two annual festivals in the hall – the autumnal “Stockholm International Composer Festival” (having featured composers like Witold Lutoslawski, Kaija Saariaho, John Adams and Hans Werner Henze over an almost 30 year span), and “Composer Weekend” in the spring, focusing on a contemporary Swedish composer.
Nurturing the talent and audience of tomorrow has been key to the orchestra’s work for almost a century and is now reaping its rewards. Through concerts and other activities the orchestra engages with over 45 000 children and youngsters each year with projects ranging from the traditional to experimental.
Furthermore, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra is deeply engaged in the El sistema project of the Stockholm region. Leading the field in experimental projects, the orchestra has also performed a number of symphonic arrangements of video game music, including releases on CD. The resulting success led the orchestra’s programme to be chosen as a special focus of attention in a benchmark study of the international field of music education commissioned by the European Concert Hall Organisation (ECHO) of which the Stockholm Concert Hall is a leading member.