Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Patron: Her Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is one of the very best orchestras in the world. But what makes the orchestra so special? Time and time again, critics have lauded its unique sound, which clearly stands out among thousands of others. Although sound is difficult to describe in words, the RCO’s string section has been called ‘velvety’, the sound of the brass ‘golden’, the timbre of the woodwinds ‘distinctly personal’ and the percussion have an international reputation.

RCO meets Europe Play

RCO meets Europe

Touch the untouchable, hear the unhearable, feel the unfeelable.

While the exceptional acoustics of the Concertgebouw, designed by the architect A.L. van Gendt, also play an important role in this respect, no other orchestra sounds like the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in the Main Hall.

The influence exerted on the orchestra by its chief conductors, of whom there have been only six in the last 127 years, is also important. As is that of the musicians themselves. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is made up of 120 players hailing from ca. 25 countries. Despite its size, the orchestra actually functions more like a chamber orchestra in terms of the sensitivity with which its members listen to, and work in tandem with, one another.

Indeed, this requires both a high individual calibre and a great sense of mutual trust and confidence.

The six chief conductors

With the effect from the 2016/17 season, Daniele Gatti will be chief conductor of the RCO.

Serving before him in that capacity were Willem Kes (chief conductor from 1888 to 1895), Willem Mengelberg (1895–1945), Eduard van Beinum (1945–1959), Bernard Haitink (1963–1988), Riccardo Chailly (1988–2004) and Mariss Jansons (2004-2015).

Willem Mengelberg laid the foundation for the orchestra’s acclaimed Mahler tradition. Eduard van Beinum introduced Bruckner’s symphonies and French music.

Bernard Haitink refined the orchestra sound and broadened the repertoire. His recordings and the Christmas Matinee concerts televised in many European countries earned him wide acclaim. Haitink was appointed honorary conductor in 1999.

Conductor emeritus since 2004, Riccardo Chailly provided a great impetus to the programming of contemporary music and opera.

Under the direction of Mariss Jansons, the orchestra consistently focused on composers such as Bruckner, Mahler, Strauss and Brahms, as well as important twentieth-century composers like Shostakovich and Messiaen, to whom large-scale thematic projects have been devoted. In his first season as chief conductor, Daniele Gatti adds an emphasis on composers such as Debussy, Strawinsky, Ravel and the Second Viennese School.

Partnerships with composers

During Willem Mengelberg’s fifty-year tenure, leading composers conducted the orchestra on more than one occasion. Through the years, the orchestra has continued its collaboration with composers such as George Benjamin, Oliver Knussen, Tan Dun and Thomas Adès, who over the last few years have followed in the footsteps of other conducting composers like Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky, Bruno Maderna, Witold Lutosławski, Otto Ketting, Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Hans Werner Henze and John Adams.

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra actively contributes to the creation of new repertoire by regularly commissioning new compositions, and by closely collaborating with house composers Michel van der Aa, Detlev Glanert and Richard Rijnvos.


Programming is based on two essential elements: tradition and renewal. The orchestra has long been praised for its performances of the music of Strauss, Mahler and Bruckner. It also upholds a number of special long-established concert traditions, such as the Passion and Christmas Matinee performances. In addition, the innovative AAA Festival features newly commissioned works and music from the 20th century programmed around various changing themes.

The RCO also collaborates with world-renowned guest conductors and specialists. For instance, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who is largely responsible for the orchestra’s reputation when it comes to eighteenth-century repertoire, was appointed honorary guest conductor in October 2000.

Facts and figures

The Concertgebouw Orchestra was founded in 1888. On the occasion of its 100th anniversary in 1988, the orchestra officially received the appellation ‘Royal’.

In addition to some eighty concerts performed at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra gives forty concerts at leading concert halls throughout the world each year. The RCO participates in residencies in Paris (Philharmonie), Brussels (BOZAR), London (Barbican Centre) and Frankfurt (Alte Oper).

The orchestra reaches some 250,000 concert-goers a year. Thanks to regular radio and television broadcasts in collaboration with its media partner, the Dutch broadcasting network AVROTROS, and increasingly with Mezzo TV and Unitel Classica, that exposure is further increased. The orchestra has made over 1,100 LP, CD and DVD recordings to date, many of which have won international distinctions.

Since 2004, the orchestra boasts its own in-house label, RCO Live. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra contributes to talent development in various ways. RCO members regularly give master classes, both in the Netherlands and abroad. Since 2003 the RCO Academy successfully trains talented young orchestra musicians.

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is a symphony orchestra that gives orchestral performances of the highest calibre in the world’s leading concert halls under the direction of the very best conductors. The activities it carries out in Amsterdam form the basis of its role as the Netherlands’ ambassador for international excellence. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra offers audiences emotional and intellectual enrichment, generating involvement and active loyalty.