There is perhaps no other musical ensemble more closely associated with the history and tradition of European classical music than the Vienna Philharmonic. Over the past 180 years, this orchestra has experienced and influenced the course of musical history around the world. Even to this day, prominent soloists and conductors refer to the unique “Viennese Sound” as the outstanding quality that sets this orchestra apart from all others.
The fascination that the orchestra has held since its founding by Otto Nicolai in 1842 for prominent composers and conductors, as well as for audiences all over the world, is based upon the conscious maintenance of a homogenous musical style that is carefully bequeathed from one generation to the next, as well as a unique history and organizational structure. The pillars of the “Philharmonic Idea,” which remain valid even today, are a democratic organization that places the entire artistic and organizational decision-making process in the hands of the musicians themselves, and a close symbiosis with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. Vienna Philharmonic statutes stipulate that only musicians from the opera orchestra can become members of the Vienna Philharmonic.
Another unique feature of this democratic structure is that the orchestra itself is solely responsible for the organization of concerts and the selection of repertoire, as well as the engaging of conductors and soloists. In 1860, the Subscription Concert series was introduced, for which one conductor was engaged for an entire season. These concerts formed a solid artistic and economic basis that remains in place to this day. Beginning in 1933, the orchestra adapted a system of guest conductors that promotes a wide spectrum of artistic encounters with the most prominent conductors of each generation.
The orchestra’s touring activities began at the beginning of the 20th century and have since taken the orchestra to all continents on the globe. In recent years, this has included regularly scheduled concerts in Germany, Japan, China, and the United States. The relationship to Japan and the Japanese audiences is so close that even in the pandemic year 2020 the orchestra’s tour to Japan took place after the implementation of extensive security measures and a tour-long quarantine. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Vienna Philharmonic has taken a leading role through testing and studies and became the first orchestra in the world to play concerts for live audiences after the first lockdown in June 2020.
In 2018, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra Academy was founded. Students are selected in accordance with a strict, internationally oriented audition process and trained at the highest level during a two-year course of study. The members of the first academy class of 2019–21 have successfully completed the program.
The Vienna Philharmonic has made it its mission to communicate the humanitarian message of music into the daily lives and consciousness of its listeners. From the beginning, the orchestra has displayed a strong social consciousness, characterized by a commitment to individuals in need and the fostering of young musicians.
The orchestra has received numerous prizes and awards. Since 2008, it has been supported by ROLEX, its exclusive sponsor.
The Vienna Philharmonic performs approximately 40 concerts in Vienna annually, among them the New Year’s Concert and the Summer Night Concert Schönbrunn, which are broadcast in numerous countries around the world. The orchestra also has an annual summer residency at the Salzburg Festival and performs more than 50 concerts a year on its international tours. All of these activities underscore the reputation of the Vienna Philharmonic as one of the world’s finest orchestras.