The St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Russia’s oldest symphonic ensemble, was founded in 1882. In that year, on the Order of Alexander III, the Court Musical Choir was established – the prototype of today’s Honoured Collective of the Russian Federation. Thus, in 2007, the orchestra celebrated its 125th anniversary. The Musicians’ Choir was founded to perform in the royal presence – at receptions and official ceremonies and at the balls, plays and concerts at the Royal Court. The pinnacle of this type of activity was the participation of the choir in 1896 in the coronation ceremony of Nicholas II. In 1897 the Court Choir became the Court Orchestra, its musicians having been transferred from the military and given the same rights as other actors of royal theatres. In the early 20th century the orchestra was permitted to perform at commercial concerts for the general public. Tchaikovsky conducted the premiere of his Symphony No 6 (“Pathetique”) with the orchestra shortly before his death. The series of concerts Orchestral Collections of New Music saw the first Russian performances of Richard Strauss’ symphonic poems Ein Heldenleben and Also Sprach Zarathustra, Mahler’s First Symphony, Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony and Skryabin’s Poem of Ecstasy. Among the conductors were world renowned-musicians such as Richard Strauss, Arthur Nikisch, Alexander Glazunov and Serge Koussevitsky.
In 1917 the Orchestra became the State Orchestra and following the Decree of 1921 it was incorporated into the newly founded Petrograd Philharmonic, the first of its kind in the country. Shortly afterwards an unprecedented number of great Western conductors began to conduct the orchestra. Their names enjoy unquestioned authority in today’s musical world: Otto Klemperer (who also conducted the subscription concerts), Bruno Walter, Felix Weingartner and many more. Soloists Vladimir Horowitz and Sergey Prokofiev (the latter performing his piano concertos) appeared with the orchestra. On the initiative of foreign conductors, the orchestra began to play modern repertoire – Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Berg, Hindemith, Honegger, Poulenc and continued to premiere the music of contemporary Russian composers. In 1918, directed by the composer, the orchestra premiered the Classical symphony of Prokofiev. And in 1926 Shostakovich made his debut as a composer when Nikolay Malko conducted Shostakovich’s First Symphony in the Great Hall of the Philharmonia.
In 1934 the orchestra was the first in the country to receive the title of the Honoured Orchestra of the Republic. Four years later Evgeny Mravinsky, the First Prize winner of the National Conductors Competition, joined the orchestra and for the next 50 years he gradually transformed it into one of the best orchestras in the world. The orchestra rapidly became the model for the performance of Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich symphonies. The class of the virtuoso orchestra permitted its recognition next to the orchestras of von Karajan and Walter and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw as the best interpreters of Mozart during the Viennese festival dedicated to Mozart’s 200th anniversary. The creative alliance of Mravinsky and Shostakovich was also unique in the musical world. Many of the symphonies were premiered by Mravinsky and they became the centerpieces of the repertoire, both at home and abroad on tour. We may imagine how deeply Shostakovich appreciated this collaboration when he dedicated the Eighth Symphony to Mravinsky. The orchestra also performed in this period and beyond with other famous conductors including Leopold Stokowski, Igor Markevich, Kurt Sanderling, Georg Solti, Arvid Jansons, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Evgeny Svetlanov and Mariss Jansons,
In 1988 Yuri Temrikanov was elected by its musicians to become the principal conductor of the most famous national orchestra, a position he holds to this day. In just the last few years the orchestra gave several world premieres and opened the 2005-2006 Season at Carnegie Hall, the culmination of its performances in all the most prestigious concert halls of the world. During the last season, after a long gap, the orchestra went for the first time on an important tour of Siberia to Irkutsk, Surgut and Khanty-Mansiysk – the 2nd International Music Festival’s “Stars at Baikal”. In June 2007 the orchestra closed the 2nd Festival of World Symphony Orchestras in Moscow.
Last season, the orchestra gave the world premiere of a new symphony by Segerstam and the Russian premiere of Grechaninov’s Fifth Symphony. Additionally, the orchestra toured with three concerts both in Paris’s Théatre des Champs-Elysées and Vienna’s Musikverein and opened the First International Rostropovich Week in Moscow. Their festival appearances included the Enescu Festival in Rumania and MITO Festival in Italy.
The 2010/2011 season opened with concerts in Annecy, France at the Crescendo Festival dedicated to the Year of Russia in France, and in December included the Eleventh International Winter Festival “Arts Square” dedicated to the year of France in Russia. The orchestra will also tour France (twice), Asia and the USA. Highlights of the season include the Russian premiere of Nono’s “Il canto sospeso”, which uses prisoners of fascism letters as the libretto, and Schubert’s Seventh Symphony, a St. Petersburg premiere within the bounds of the new monographic cycle. Additional St. Petersburg premieres include Korgold’s “The Snowman” ballet music and Violin Concerto; Berlioz’s “The Childhood of Christ” Christmas Oratorio and Delius’s “A Mass of Life”. Additonall concerts include Messiaen’s Turangalila-Symphonie, excerpts from the mystery play “The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian”, and the Russian premiere of Obukhov’s “The Third and the Last Covenant”.
The St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra last performed for La Jolla Music Society in the Celebrity Orchestra Series on November 12, 2007.