The Philharmonic State Orchestra is Hamburg’s largest and oldest orchestra, looking back on many years of musical history. When the “Philharmonic Orchestra” and the “Orchestra of the Hamburg Municipal Theatre” merged in 1934, two tradition-steeped orchestras combined. Philharmonic concerts have been performed in Hamburg since 1828, artists such as Clara Schumann, Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms being regular guests of the Philharmonic Society. The history of the opera company goes back even further: Hamburg has been home to musical theatre since 1678, even if a regular opera or theatre orchestra was only formed later. To this day, the Philharmonic State Orchestra has embodied the sound of the Hansa City, a concert and opera orchestra in one.
During its long history, the orchestra encountered great artist personalities. Apart from composers of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, such as Georg Philipp Telemann, Piotr I. Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Sergey Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky, since the 20th century chief conductors such as Karl Muck, Eugen Jochum, Joseph Keilberth, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Horst Stein, Gerd Albrecht, Ingo Metzmacher and Simone Young have shaped the orchestra’s sound. Renowned conductors of the pre-war era such as Otto Klemperer, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Bruno Walter, Karl Böhm and Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt gave brilliant performances, as did outstanding conductors of our times: suffice it to mention Sir Neville Marriner, Christian Thielemann, Semyon Bychkov, Kirill Petrenko, Valery Gergiev and Sir Roger Norrington.
Starting with the 2015/2016 season, Kent Nagano has taken on the position of Hamburg’s General Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Philharmonic State Orchestra and the Hamburg State Opera. In his first season Kent Nagano initiated a new project, the Philharmonic Academy at St. Michaelis, focusing on experimentation and chamber music. In 2016 Nagano and the Philharmonic undertook a successful three-week concert tour in South America. Since 2017 Kent Nagano and the Philharmonic State Orchestra have continued the traditional Philharmonic Concerts at the new Elbphilharmonie, for which they commissioned Jörg Widmann to compose the oratorio ARCHE, which was given its world premiere during the hall’s opening festivities.