In 2016, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) celebrates 70 years at the forefront of music-making in the UK. Its home base since 2004 at London’s Cadogan Hall serves as a springboard for fourteen residencies across the country, often in areas where access to live orchestral music is very limited. With a wider reach than any other UK large ensemble, the RPO has truly become Britain’s national orchestra.
The regional programme, plus regular performances at Cadogan Hall, Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall and a hugely popular series at the Royal Albert Hall, are conducted by a distinguished roster of musicians: Charles Dutoit, appointed Artistic Director and Principal Conductor in 2009 after a decades-long association with the RPO; Pinchas Zukerman, the inspirational Principal Guest Conductor; Alexander Shelley, the dynamic young Principal Associate Conductor since January 2015, and the esteemed Permanent Associate Conductor Grzegorz Nowak.
International touring is vital to the Orchestra’s work, taking it to many prestigious destinations worldwide. The 70th Anniversary Season has included concerts at the festivals of Montreux and Granada, an extensive tour of the USA, and recent visits to central Europe and the Far East, including South Korea and China.
For more than twenty years RPO Resound, the Orchestra’s community and education programme, has taken music into the heart of the regions that the Orchestra serves. From Azerbaijan to Jamaica and from Shanghai to Scunthorpe, the team – comprising the majority of the Orchestra – has worked with young people, the homeless, recovering stroke patients (in the STROKESTRA project in Hull) and in settings ranging from the Sea Life London Aquarium to hospitals, orphanages and children’s hospices.
In 1986, the RPO became the first UK orchestra to launch its own record label. Continuing its tradition of entrepreneurial innovation, in 2015 the RPO started an online radio station, The Sound of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which broadcasts via its website, and RPO TV, an online video channel streaming fly-on-the-wall shorts written, directed and filmed by the musicians.
The Orchestra has become increasingly active on social media platforms, inviting audiences to engage informally on Facebook and Twitter and to enjoy behind-the-scenes insights on the RPO blog, YouTube and Instagram.
Although the RPO embraces twenty-first-century opportunities, including appearances with pop stars and on video game, film and television soundtracks, its artistic priority remains paramount: the making of great music at the highest level for the widest possible audience. This would have been lauded by its Founder and first conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham, who set up the RPO in 1946, leading a vital revival in the UK’s orchestral life after World War II.
Since then, the Orchestra’s principal conductors have included Rudolf Kempe, Antal Doráti, Walter Weller, André Previn, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Yuri Temirkanov and Daniele Gatti; and its repertoire has encompassed every strand of music from the core classical repertoire to music of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and works by leading composers of recent years, including Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Sir John Tavener.
As the 70th Anniversary Season unfolds, the RPO’s versatility and high standards mark it out as one of today’s most open-minded, forward-thinking symphony orchestras. Now it proudly looks forward to the next 70 years.