The first performance by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra was in 1842, and is known as the ‘Grand Concert.’
A late bloomer
Some of the most famous classical names that Vienna is synonymous with, including Haydn, Beethoven, and Mozart, did not perform with the orchestra, but alternatively employed other various professional and amateur ensembles.
The ‘golden era’ of the orchestra is considered to be between the years of 1843–1916, when legendary conductor Hans Richter led the musicians. Under Richter, the orchestra was elevated to world-greatness, performing work by some of the era’s most coveted composers such as Wagner, Brahms and Liszt.
A musician can only play in the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra if they have previously been a member of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra – a rule decided by the orchestra’s first appointed conductor, Otto Nicolai.
The day-to-day running of the orchestra is democratically self-governed, with decisions made autonomously by the members. This has been the case since the birth of the orchestra, although slight modifications have been made over the years.
The orchestra during WWII
During WWII, all Jewish musicians were expelled from the orchestra, leading to five members later perishing in concentration camps and a further four players murdered at the hands of the Nazis. During this time, 20% of the orchestra members were members of the Nazi party.
The first official appointment of a female member was in 2002, although female musicians had been ‘allowed’ to perform with the orchestra since the beginning of the 90s. Protests were held against the orchestra before this time, criticising its old fashioned views. Today, the orchestra continues to have an unequal mix, with the male musicians drastically outnumbering the female, unfortunately making it one of the most gender-imbalanced orchestras in the world.
The first time the orchestra performed abroad was in Paris in 1900, at the Exposition Universelle. They have since gone on to tour all over the globe.
Every year the orchestra performs at the Summer Night Concert, a colossal event held on the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace, attracting monumental crowds of up to 100,000. Some of the world’s finest musicians have performed in previous years, including pianist Lang Lang. The Vienna New Year’s Concert is another annual prestigious event, which broadcasts to a global audience of a staggering 50 million.
You’ve probably heard a track by The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra without realising it. They can be heard on a variety of notable film soundtracks; including Apocalypse Now, Birdman and Shutter Island.