Time and time again, critics have lauded the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra's unique sound. The string section has been called ‘velvety’, the sound of the brass ‘golden’, the timbre of the woodwinds ‘distinctly personal’ and the percussion have an international reputation. While the exceptional acoustics of the Concertgebouw also play an important role in this respect, no other orchestra sounds like the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in the Main Hall. The influence exerted on the orchestra by its conductors is also important. With only six chief-conductors in over 125 years, the continuity is extraordinary, and as audible in the sound quality as it is visible in the orchestra's programming, based on tradition and renewal.

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Apart from the six chief-conductors (Willem Kes, Willem Mengelberg, Eduard van Beinum, Bernard Haitink, Riccardo Chailly and Mariss Jansons) other conductors have left an audible influence on the orchestra's playing, including honorary guest conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Leading composers who conducted the orchestra on more than one occasion have included Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky, Bruno Maderna, WitoldLutosÅ‚awski, Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Hans Werner Henze, John Adams, George Benjamin and Thomas Adès.

But the musicians themselves are the quintessential factor. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is made up of 120 players hailing from circa twenty-five countries. Despite its size, the orchestra actually functions more like a chamber orchestra in terms of the sensitivity with which its members work in tandem with one another. This requires both a high individual calibre and a great sense of mutual trust and confidence. The atmosphere onstage and the unique organisational structure (the RCO Board also includes members of the orchestra) all converge to create exactly the right circumstances for exceptional music-making. The musicians are allowed to shine, yet still share responsibility for the collective. They also share the aim of achieving and delivering the highest level of quality at every performance, an ambition that goes far beyond simply playing all the notes perfectly.

While firmly rooted in a great tradition, the RCO is always looking forward. New concert formats are developed, geared towards new audiences, including children. The orchestra has initiated several educational programmes, notably the successful Academy of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, installed in 2003. In order to secure an audience in the present as well as in the future, the orchestra is not shy to look actively to modern media. Since 2004, the orchestra has its own in-house cd and dvd label, RCO Live. In celebration of its 125th anniversary, in 2013 RCO Editions was launched, an innovative and widely admired online application for iPad and iPhone.