Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam

Meet the Orchestra

The 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. Time and time again, critics have lauded its unique sound, which clearly stands out among thousands of others. 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.

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.

Chief conductor

The influence exerted on the orchestra by its chief conductors, of whom there have been only seven since the orchestra was founded in 1888, is also important. As is that of the musicians themselves. RCO Amsterdam is made up of 120 players hailing from over 20 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 RCO 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.

This is how magic is made and a concert becomes a truly unforgettable experience.

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra during a performance of Sibelius's Symphony No. 2 (photo: Milagro Elstak)
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra during a performance of Sibelius's Symphony No. 2 (photo: Milagro Elstak)

The seven chief conductors

Willem Mengelberg
The young Willem Mengelberg

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.

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.

Composer Thomas Adès conducts the RCO during a rehearsal with one of his own works (© Renske Vrolijk)


The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra has always collaborated with world-renowned guest conductors and specialists. 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 Horizon concerts feature newly commissioned works and music from the 20th century programmed around various changing themes.


“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.”

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 each year at leading concert halls throughout the world.

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, RCO Live.

Alte Oper Frankfurt (photo: Moritz Reich)
Alte Oper Frankfurt (photo: Moritz Reich)


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.

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 as part of RCO meets Europe. In each EU country the RCO performed at least one work together with a local youth orchestra (Side by Side).

Camera in the Main Hall during a dress rehearsal.
Camera in the Main Hall during a dress rehearsal. (© Renske Vrolijk)

Vereniging Gepensioneerden Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest

Op de website van de Vereniging Gepensioneerden Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest vindt u een bloemlezing uit het orkestverleden in de vorm van een duurzame verzameling documenten en beeldmateriaal van en over de orkest- en stafleden.