The History of the Munich Philharmonic

The Munich Philharmonic was founded in 1893 through the private initiative of Franz Kaim, the son of a piano manufacturer. Since then, the orchestra has left an indelible imprint on Munich’s cultural life under the leadership of renowned conductors.

In the orchestra’s earliest years – initially under the name “Kaim Orchestra” – conductors like Hans Winderstein, Hermann Zumpe and the Bruckner pupil Ferdinand Löwe guaranteed both a high technical standard of performance and enthusiastic support of contemporary artistry. Right from the outset, their artistic concept included the effort to structure programs and prices to allow access to the concerts by all levels of society. Felix Weingartner, who directed the orchestra from 1898 to 1905, enhanced its international reputation with several tours to other countries.

Gustav Mahler directed the orchestra in 1901 and 1910 at the respective world premières of his Fourth and Eighth Symphonies. In November of 1911, the orchestra, then called the “Konzertverein Orchestra” performed the world première of Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” (The Song of the Earth) under Bruno Walter’s direction – only six months after the composer’s death in Vienna.

From 1908 to 1914, Ferdinand Löwe again took over the orchestra. In the wake of a triumphant guest appearance in Vienna on March 1, 1898 featuring Anton Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony, he conducted the first large-scale Bruckner concerts and thereby founded the orchestra’s Bruckner tradition, which has continued unbroken to the present day. During the administration of Siegmund von Hausegger, who guided the orchestra as its General Music Director from 1920 to 1938, the world premières of two Bruckner symphonies in their original versions took place as well as the final, definitive change of the orchestra’s name to “Munich Philharmonic”.

From 1938 to the summer of 1944, Austrian conductor Oswald Kabasta led the orchestra, advancing the Munich Philharmonic’s Bruckner tradition and also demonstrating the already established high standards of the orchestra on a number of tours at home and abroad.

The first concert after the Second World War was opened by Eugen Jochum with the overture to Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, whose music had been ostracized during the Nazi era. With Hans Rosbaud, the Philharmonic gained an outstanding leader in the autumn of 1945, a man who passionately advocated modern music. Rosbaud’s successor - from 1949 to 1966 - was Fritz Rieger. During the era of Rudolf Kempe, who headed the orchestra from 1967 until his untimely death in 1976, the Philharmonic undertook its first tours to Japan and the former Soviet Union.

In February of 1979, Sergiu Celibidache conducted his first concert series with the Munich Philharmonic and in June of the same year he was appointed General Music Director. Concert tours took him and the orchestra through many European countries as well as to South America and Asia. The legendary Bruckner concerts made a major contribution to the orchestra’s international standing, and during the Celibidache era the orchestra was repeatedly invited to accompany the Federal Government or the Federal President as musical ambassadors.

Following the wartime destruction of its old home, the so-called “Tonhalle“ on the Türkenstrasse, the orchestras spent over forty years in Munich’s Herkulessaal. In 1985, the Philharmonic once again acquired its own concert hall with the Philharmonie in the Gasteig, Munich’s municipal cultural center.

From September 1999 until July 2004, James Levine was Chief Conductor of the Munich Philharmonic. With him, the Munich Philharmonic undertook extended concert tours: after a grand European tour in the winter of 2000, it made a guest appearance with James Levine in February 2002 at New York’s Carnegie Hall. In the summer of 2002, they made their joint début at the BBC Proms in London. In the spring of 2003, the Munich Philharmonic was awarded the prize for the “Best Concert Programming of the 2002/2003 Season” by the Society of German Music Publishers.

Since the 2001/2002 season, under the title “Spielfeld Klassik” the Munich Philharmonic has developed an extensive program for children and adolescents. With chamber music concerts especially for them, school and youth concerts, workshops, attendance at rehearsals, school visits by Philharmonic musicians, instrument demonstrations as well as subscriptions for school and college students to choose from, the young have a number of options for getting involved with the world of classical music and the work of a great symphony orchestra. During the 2004/2005 season, over 25,000 children and adolescents took part in approximately 160 events.

In January of 2004, the Munich Philharmonic named Zubin Mehta the first “Honorary Conductor” in the history of the orchestra.

In May of 2003, Christian Thielemann signed a contract as the next General Music Director. His administration began in September of 2004. On October 29, 2004, he conducted his inaugural concert featuring the Fifth Symphony by Anton Bruckner. In conjunction with the awards ceremony for the “Euro-Klassik” prize for the year 2004, the Munich Philharmonic performed in the Philharmonie in the Gasteig on October 24, 2004. On this occasion, Christian Thielemann was the only prize winner to receive an award in the special category “Artist of the Year”.

On the 20th of October 2005, the Munich Philharmonic gave a concert in honor of Pope Benedict XVI., conducted by Christian Thielemann. In the Aula Paolo VI. they played works by Palestrina, Verdi and Wagner for an audience of 8,000. Guest concerts in Berlin, Vienna, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Rome, Turin, Barcelona, Madrid and many other places have been received with equal enthusiasm by press and public.

An Asian tour, led by Christian Thielemann in November of 2007 brought the orchestra to concerts in Japan, Korea and China, where they were cheered both by the press and the public.

In January of 2009, a series of performances of “Der Rosenkavalier” by Richard Strauss conducted by Christian Thielemann launched several years of cooperation with the Festival Theatre in Baden-Baden. This was followed, one year later, by Richard Strauss’s “Elektra”. The four symphonies of Johannes Brahms are planned for January of 2011.

During the Japanese tour at the end of March 2010 under the direction of Christian Thielemann, the audience welcomed the Munich Philharmonic with great enthusiasm. Highlights of the tour included concerts ion Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Tokyo.

Beyond this, 18,000 subscribers in the Philharmonie on the Gasteig impressively document the ranking of the orchestra under the direction of its General Music Director in Munich’s cultural life. 
As of the 2012/2103 season, Lorin Maazel has assumed the post of Music Director of the Munich Philharmonic. During his tenure the main focus of his work was on extending the repertoire and making the sound more flexible.

Since 2015/16 Valery Gergiev is the Music Director of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. With Gergiev, a project was implemented that had been unprecedented in Munich: the performance of all 15 symphonies by Dmitri Shostakovich together with the Mariinsky orchestra in the season 2011/12. This type of cyclic cooperation was continued with works by Igor Stravinsky in the season 2013/14.