Today, the Philharmonia has the greatest claim of any orchestra to be the UK’s National Orchestra. It is committed to presenting the same quality, live music-making in venues throughout the country as it brings to London and the great concert halls of the world. In 2011/12 the Orchestra is performing more than 160 concerts, as well as presenting chamber performances by the Soloists of the Philharmonia Orchestra, and recording scores for films, CDs and computer games. Under Esa-Pekka Salonen a series of flagship, visionary projects – City of Dreams: Vienna 1900 -1935 (2009) and Bill Viola’s Tristan und Isolde (2010) - have been critically acclaimed and during 2011 Salonen presented Infernal Dance: Inside the World of Béla Bartók, a pan-European exploration of the life, influences and music of the composer. For 16 years now the Orchestra’s work has been underpinned by its much admired UK and International Residency Programme, which began in 1995 with the launch of its residencies at the Bedford Corn Exchange and London’s Southbank Centre. During 2011/12 the Orchestra not only performs more than 35 concerts at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, but also celebrates its 15th year as Resident Orchestra of De Montfort Hall in Leicester and its 11th year as Orchestra in Partnership at The Anvil in Basingstoke; and launches a new residency at the new Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury. The Orchestra’s extensive touring schedule this season also includes performances in more than 30 of the finest international concert halls in Europe, China and the United Arab Emirates, with conductors including Esa-Pekka Salonen, Lorin Maazel and Kurt Masur.
During its first six decades, the Philharmonia Orchestra has collaborated with most of the great classical artists of the 20th century. Conductors associated with the Orchestra include Furtwängler, Richard Strauss, Toscanini, Cantelli, Karajan and Giulini. Otto Klemperer was the first of many outstanding Principal Conductors, and other great names have included Lorin Maazel (Associate Principal Conductor), Riccardo Muti (Principal Conductor and Music Director), Giuseppe Sinopoli (Music Director) and Sir Charles Mackerras (Principal Guest Conductor). As well as Esa-Pekka Salonen, current titled conductors are Christoph von Dohnányi (Honorary Conductor for Life), Kurt Sanderling (Conductor Emeritus) and Vladimir Ashkenazy (Conductor Laureate).
The Philharmonia Orchestra continues to pride itself on its long-term collaborations with the finest musicians of our day, supporting new as well as established artists. This policy extends into the Orchestra itself, where many of the players have solo or chamber music careers alongside their work with the Orchestra. The Philharmonia’s Martin Musical Scholarship Fund has for many years supported talented musicians at the start of their careers, including an Orchestral Award, which allows two young players every year to gain performing experience within the Orchestra. The Orchestra is also recognised for its innovative programming policy, at the heart of which is a commitment to performing and commissioning new works by leading composers, among them the Artistic Director of its Music of Today series, Unsuk Chin. Since 1945 the Philharmonia Orchestra has commissioned more than 100 new works from composers including Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Mark-Anthony Turnage and James MacMillan.
Throughout its history, the Philharmonia Orchestra has been committed to finding new ways to bring its top quality live performance to audiences worldwide, and to using new technologies to achieve this. Many millions of people since 1945 have enjoyed their first experience of classical music through a Philharmonia recording, and in 2011/12 audiences can engage with the Orchestra through webcasts, podcasts, downloads, computer games and film scores as well as through its unique interactive music education website, The Sound Exchange (www.philharmonia.co.uk/thesoundexchange). More than 3,500 people a month download free monthly Philharmonia video podcasts, which include artist interviews and features on repertoire and projects; these films are also watched by more than one million people on YouTube. In May 2010 the Orchestra’s digital “virtual Philharmonia Orchestra” project, RE-RITE, won both the RPS Audience Development and Creative Communication Awards, and after appearances in London, Leicester and Lisbon, tours to Dortmund in November 2011. RE-RITE, devised with Esa-Pekka Salonen, secured the Philharmonia’s position as a digital innovator and earlier this year the Orchestra announced the launch of a new digital production company, Rite Digital. The Philharmonia and Rite Digital are currently working on a follow-up audio-visual installation, Universe of Sound: The Planets. This installation, based on Holst’s The Planets, will première at the Science Museum in summer 2012 and allow audiences closer than ever to the heart of the Orchestra.
Recording and broadcasting both continue to play a significant part in the Orchestra’s activities, notably through its partnership with Signum Records, releasing new live recordings of Philharmonia performances with its key conductors. Since 2003 the Philharmonia has enjoyed a major partnership with Classic FM, as The Classic FM Orchestra on Tour, as well as continuing to broadcast on BBC Radio 3.