The Concertgebouworkest was founded in 1888. On the occasion of its 100th anniversary in 1988, the orchestra officially received the appellation ‘Royal’.
Based in Amsterdam, the Concertgebouworkest is one of the very best orchestras in the world. Time and time again, critics have lauded its unique sound. The 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.
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 Concertgebouworkest in the Main Hall. Equally important is the influence exerted on the orchestra by its chief conductors, of whom there have been only seven since the orchestra was founded in 1888, as is that of the musicians themselves.
The Concertgebouworkest is made up of 121 players hailing from 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 atmosphere onstage, the orchestra’s roots in Amsterdam and the organisational structure (the board also includes members of the orchestra) all converge to create exactly the right circumstances for exceptional music-making. The musicians are allowed to shine, yet still share responsibility for the collective. They also share the aim of achieving and delivering the highest level of quality at every performance, an ambition that goes far beyond simply playing all the notes perfectly.
So far, the orchestra has had seven chief conductors: Willem Kes (chief conductor from 1888 to 1895), Willem Mengelberg (1895–1945), Eduard van Beinum (1945–1959), Bernard Haitink (1961–1988), Riccardo Chailly (1988–2004), Mariss Jansons (2004-2015), Daniele Gatti (from September 2016 to August 2018).
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, conductor emeritus since 2015, the orchestra focused on important twentieth-century composers such as Shostakovich and Messiaen, to whom large-scale thematic projects have been devoted. Daniele Gatti enriched the orchestra's symphonic tradition with French repertoire, the Second Viennese School and contemporary works.
Programming is based on two essential elements: tradition and renewal. The Concertgebouworkest has long been praised for its performances of the music of Bruckner, Strauss and Mahler. It also upholds a number of special long-established concert traditions, such as the Passion and Christmas Matinee performances. In addition, the innovative Horizon series features newly commissioned works and music from the 20th Century programmed around various changing themes. Close collaborations with world-renowned guest conductors and specialists have contributed to the orchestra’s sound and its flexibility in a broad repertoire that spans over three centuries.
Education and talent development are important pillars of the Concertgebouworkest. Members of the orchestra regularly give masterclasses in the Netherlands and abroad. Since 2003 the Academy of the Concertgebouworkest successfully trains talented young orchestra musicians. In 2019 Young was launched, a youth orchestra for ‘hidden talent’ from all over Europe.
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 John Adams, Thomas Adès, George Benjamin and Tan Dun, 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 and Hans Werner Henze.
In addition to some eighty concerts performed at The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the orchestra gives forty concerts at leading concert halls throughout the world each year. At BOZAR in Brussels the Concertgebouworkest is orchestra in residence.
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 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, Concertgebouworkest Live.
In celebration of its 125th anniversary, in 2013 the orchestra undertook a world tour, visiting six continents in a single year. Between 2016 and 2018, all 28 member states of the European Union were visited; in each country one work was performed together with a local youth orchestra (Side by Side).
The Concertgebouworkest is co-funded by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the Municipality of Amsterdam, sponsors, funds and numerous donors all over the world. The largest portion of its income is generated by proceeds from the concerts it gives in and outside the Netherlands.