The Munich Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1893 on the private initiative of Franz Kaim, the son of a piano manufacturer, and has since then left an indelible imprint on Munich’s musical life under the direction of renowned conductors. In the earliest years of the orchestra – initially under the name “Kaim Orchestra” – conductors like Hans Winderstein, Hermann Zumpe and Bruckner pupil Ferdinand Löwe guaranteed the high technical performance level and dedicated considerable attention to the contemporary music of the time.
From the outset, it was part of the artistic concept to establish programs and admission charges geared toward welcoming all levels of the population to the concerts. When Felix Weingartner took over the orchestra from 1889 to 1905, the number of foreign tours increased, enhancing the snemble’s international reputation.
Gustav Mahler conducted the orchestra in the years 1901 and 1910 at the world premières of his 4th and 8th Symphonies. In November of 1911, the ensemble, meanwhile renamed the “Concert Association Orchestra”, presented the world première of Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” under the direction of Bruno Walter – only a half year after the composer’s death in Vienna.
From 1908 to 1914, Ferdinand Löwe ereassumed the helm of the orchestra. Following a triumphant guest performancer in Vienna on March 1, 1898, featuring Bruckner’s 5th Symphony, he led the first Bruckner concerts and thus established the orchestra’s Bruckner tradition, which continues to this day.
During the administration of Siegmund von Hausegger, who presided over the orchestra as General Music Director from 1920 to 1936, the world premières of two Bruckner symphonies in their original versions among other compositions took place as well as the renamiing of the orchestra as “Munich Philharmonic” thus giving it its final name.
From 1938 until the summer of 1944, Austrian conductor Oswald Kabasta headed the orchestra, gloriously continuing the Munich Philharmonic’s Bruckner tradition as well as proving its quality in a number of guest appearances at home and abroad.
The first concert after World War II was opened by Eugen Jochum with the overture to Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, whose music had been banned during the Nazi dictatorship.
In the autumn of 1945, the Philharmonic acquired the services of Hans-Rosbaud, an outstanding orchestral director, who also took up the cudgels for the cause of new music.
Rosbaud’s successor from 1949 to 1966 was Fritz Rieger, during whose administration the foundation was laid for the Philharmonic’s successful work with young people. During the era of Rudolf Kempe, who guided the orchestra from 1961 until his untimely death in 1976, the Philharmonic made its first tour to what was then the U.S.S.R. and climed to a position as an international top orchestra.
In February 1979, Sergiu Celibidache led his first concerts with the Munich Philharmonic, and was appointed the orchestra’s General Music Director in July of the same year. There followed concert tours taking the orchestra to several countries in Europe, to South America and to Asia. The meanwhile legendary Bruckner concerts made a major contribution to the international status of the orchestra.
After long, intensive years in Munich’s Herkulessaal, the Philharmoic finally had its own concert hall in 1985 with the opening of the Philharmonie in the municipal culture center on the Gasteig after forty homeless years – its old home base, the so-called “Tonhalle” on Türkenstrasse had been completely destroyed in 1944.
From September 1999 until 2004, James Levine was the Chief Conductor of the Munich Philharmonic. He joined the Munich Philharmonic on a number of extensive concert tours. After a long European tour in the winter of 2000, they gave a guest performance with James Levine in New York’s Carnegie Hall. In the summer of 2002 they made their joint début at the BBC “Proms” in London.
The German Music Publishers’ Association singled out the Munich Philharmonic in the spring of 2003, awarding it the prize for the “Best Concert Programs of the 2003/2004 Season”.In May of 2003, Christian Thielemann signed his contract as new General Music Director. On October 29, 2004 he conducted his inaugural concert featuring the 5th Symphony by Anton Bruckner.
On October 20, 2005, the Munich Philharmonic under the direction of Christian Thielemann had the honor of giving a concert in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican with 7,000 invited guests in the audience.
In November 2001 the orchestra traveled with Christian Thielemann to Asia and played concerts in Japan, Korea and China. These totally successful performances were followed by a second invitation for the orchestras to come to Japan for five concerts in March of 2010.
A series of concert performances of “Der Rosenkavalier” by Richard Strauss conducted by Christian Thielemann in January of 2009 ushered in a long-standing collaboration with the Festival Theatre in Baden-Baden. One year later, Richard Strauss’s “Elektra” followed. In January of 2011, the Munich Philharmonic presented the four symphonies by Johannes Brahms.
A totally successful tour brought the orchestra in September 2010 to South America for concerts conducted by Conductor Laureate Zubin Mehta.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Munich world première, Christian Thielemann led two performances of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 in October of 2010.
Lorin Maazel assumed the position of Chief Conductor of the Munich Philharmonic in 2012. In his two-year tenure Maazel expanded the orchestra's repertoire and worked on flexible sounds. As of the 2015/16 season, he will be followed as Chief Conductor by Valery Gergiev.