Founded in 1882 by 54 musicians The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is an orchestra based in Berlin, Germany that is consistently ranked as one of the best orchestras in the world.

The Berlin Philharmonic’s international reputation was established in its early years by a series of guest conductors including Hans Richter, Felix von Weingartner, Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Johannes Brahms and Edvard Grieg.

The Berlin Philharmonic is based in its own concert hall, the Philharmonie, a distinctive yellow angular building designed by the architect Hans Scharoun that is one of the city’s landmarks.

The legendary conductor Herbert von Karajan led the Berlin Philharmonic from 1955 until his resignation in April 1989. Under his leadership, the orchestra made a vast number of recordings and toured widely which increased their popularity. Karajan’s hiring (in September 1982) of Sabine Meyer, the first female wind player in the orchestra, led to controversy when the orchestra voted 73 to 4 not to admit her to the orchestra.

The conductor Claudio Abbado, democratically elected by the orchestra in 1989, expanded their repertoire with more modern 20th-century works. The Claudio Abbado Composition Prize was established by the orchestra in his honour.

In June 1999, the musicians elected the British conductor Sir Simon Rattle as their next chief conductor. He made it a condition of his signing that the orchestra became self-governing, with the power to make its own artistic and financial decisions. His contract was initially until 2012 however, in April 2008, the musicians voted in favour of retaining Rattle as their chief conductor through the 2018 season.
Sir Simon Rattle initiated the Education Programme of the Berliner Philharmonic in 2002 with the aim of making the work of the orchestra and its music as accessible to as many people as possible. The projects are aimed at people of all ages, different social and cultural backgrounds and talents and encourage an active and an artistic engagement with music.

In 2006, the orchestra announced it would investigate its role during the Nazi regime and Misha Aster published The Reich’s Orchestra, his study of the relationship of the Berlin Philharmonic to the rulers of the Third Reich, in 2007.

On 18 December 2008, the Berlin Philharmonic launched a Digital Concert Hall that enables people all over the world to see and hear the Philharmonic’s concerts.

Fun Fact

The Berlin Philharmonic plays at a slightly higher pitch than their British counterparts, with A above middle C tuned to 443 Hz rather than 440 Hz.

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Back to School #5, Collection 2 #53

Minutes by Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra