Berliner Philharmoniker

Voice/Instrument: Orchestra


The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in Berlin in 1882 by 54 musicians under the name Frühere Bilsesche Kapelle (literally, "Former Bilse's Band"); the group broke away from their previous conductor Benjamin Bilse after he announced his intention of taking the band on a fourth-class train to Warsaw for a concert. The orchestra was renamed and reorganized under the financial management of Hermann Wolff in 1887. Their new conductor was Ludwig von Brenner; in 1887 Hans von Bülow, one of the most esteemed conductors in the world, took over the post. This helped to establish the orchestra's international reputation, and guests Hans Richter, Felix von Weingartner, Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Johannes Brahms and Edvard Grieg conducted the orchestra over the next few years. Programmes of this period show that the orchestra possessed only 46 strings, much less than the Wagnerian ideal of 64.

In 1895, Arthur Nikisch became chief conductor, and was succeeded in 1923 by Wilhelm Furtwängler. Despite several changes in leadership, the orchestra continued to perform throughout World War II. After Furtwängler fled to Switzerland in 1945, Leo Borchard became chief conductor. This arrangement lasted only a few months, as Borchard was accidentally shot and killed by the American forces occupying Berlin. Sergiu Celibidache then took over as chief conductor for seven years, from 1945 to 1952. Furtwängler returned in 1952 and conducted the orchestra until his death in 1954.

His successor was Herbert von Karajan, who led the orchestra from 1955 until his resignation in April 1989, only months before his death. Under him, the orchestra made a vast number of recordings and toured widely, growing and gaining fame. When Karajan stepped down, the post was offered to Carlos Kleiber, but he declined.

Claudio Abbado became principal conductor after Karajan, expanding the orchestra's repertoire beyond the core classical and romantic works into more modern 20th-century works. He stepped down from this post in 2002 to conduct the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. During the post-unification period, the orchestra encountered financial problems resulting from budgetary stress in the city of Berlin. In 2006, the Orchestra Academy of the Berlin Philharmonic established the Claudio Abbado Composition Prize in Abbado's honour.

In June 1999, the musicians elected Sir Simon Rattle as their next chief conductor.Rattle made it a condition of his signing with the Berlin Philharmonic that it be turned into a self-governing public foundation, with the power to make its own artistic and financial decisions. This required a change to state law, which was approved in 2001, allowing him to join the organization in 2002. Rattle's contract with the orchestra was initially through 2012. In April 2008, the BPO musicians voted in favour of retaining Rattle as their chief conductor. From 2006 to 2010 the general manager of the orchestra was Pamela Rosenberg. In April 2008, the orchestra announced that Rosenberg would not continue as general manager after her contract expires in 2010. As of September 2010 the new general manager will be German media manager Martin Hoffmann.

In 2006, the orchestra announced it would investigate its role during the Nazi regime.In 2007, Misha Aster published The Reich's Orchestra, his study of the relationship of the Berlin Philharmonic to the rulers of the Third Reich. Also in 2007, the documentary film The Reichsorchester by Enrique Sánchez Lansch was released.

The first concert hall of the orchestra was destroyed in 1944. Since 1963, the orchestra has been resident at the Philharmonie, which was constructed from 1960 until 1963, following the design of architect Hans Scharoun. On 20 May 2008, a fire broke out at the Philharmonie. One-quarter of the roof underwent considerable damage as firefighters cut openings to reach the flames beneath the roof.The hall interior also sustained water damage, but was otherwise "generally unharmed." The firefighters limited damage by the use of foam. The orchestra was restricted from use of the hall for concerts until June 2008.

UNICEF appointed the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle as Goodwill Ambassadors in November 2007.

On 18 December 2008 the Orchestra announced the creation of a Digital Concert Hall: this new Internet platform will enable music fans all over the world to see and hear the Philharmonic’s concerts – live or on demand. 

Show more...


Composers' compositions

Franz Liszt
Liszt - Symphonic Poems Vol.I

Symphony / Symphonic music
Antonin Dvorak
Dvořák - Symphony No.7

Symphony / Symphonic music
Gustav Mahler
Mahler - Symphonies (Rattle)

Symphony / Symphonic music
Bartok, Bela
Bartók - Boulez

Symphony / Symphonic music
Gustav Holst
The Planets - Karajan (DG).

Symphony / Symphonic music
Hindemith Paul
Die Harmonie der Welt

Symphony / Symphonic music