The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (BRSO) is considered one of the world’s best orchestras; it is named alongside the Berlin Philharmonic as the best German orchestra.
Various conductors have shaped the identity of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. However, the prevailing opinion is that it was Mariss Jansons, Artistic Director of the orchestra since 2003, who raised the sound of the orchestra to a new level. He himself has said: “For me as a conductor it’s like driving a Rolls-Royce. This orchestra can, quite simply, do everything.”
Speaking of driving: soon after the orchestra was founded by conductor Eugen Jochum in 1949, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra’s international fame was strengthened by its frequent touring.
From the very beginning, a significant tradition of the orchestra was the performing of contemporary music. As part of the Musica Viva concert series, composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud, Paul Hindemith, Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Mauricio Kagel, Luciano Berio and many others have conducted the orchestra.
More recently, the orchestra has also turned its attention to early music, collaborating with experts in historical performance practice like John Eliot Gardiner, Giovanni Antonini and Thomas Hengelbrock.
Among the first to take the stage with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Munich were conducting legends Clemens Krauss, Erich and Carlos Kleiber, Charles Munch, Otto Klemperer, Karl Böhm, Günter Wand, Sir Georg Solti, Carlo Maria Giulini, Kurt Sanderling and Wolfgang Sawallisch. The BRSO was the only orchestra in Germany with which Leonard Bernstein enjoyed performing. Nowadays, the orchestra happily plays under the leadership of Bernard Haitink, Riccardo Muti, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Simon Rattle, Franz Welser-Möst, Daniel Harding, Kent Nagano, Andris Nelsons and Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Playing with the BRSO involves a great quantity of concerts and recordings. The orchestra performs not only in Munich, but also in other Bavarian towns. Recently, expansive concert tours have also become a part of the BRSO’s schedule. They have played in practically all European countries, while also travelling to Asia, North and South America. Since 2004, the orchestra has also been the orchestra-in-residence at the Easter Festival in Lucerne.
The orchestra sees its mission as encouraging and supporting young musicians. The BRSO has performed with many promising young musicians in the finals and closing concert of the world famous ARD International Music Competition. The Orchestra Academy has been operating since 2001, and other education programmes are being formed to reach the widest possible audience of young people using a variety of methods: masterclasses, rehearsal visits, discussions with the orchestra musicians, journalists and music critics, as well as learning to speak about music themselves by preparing pre-concert lectures and video materials on the orchestra and its musicians.
The person with the most impact on the development of the orchestra is the Head Conductor, who is also Head Conductor of the Bavarian Radio Chorus. In seventy years there have been just five – this persistence and trust in each other is characteristic of the orchestra’s style.
The first, Eugen Jochum (1949-1960) built up the orchestra with top-level musicians and cemented its worldwide fame on the very first overseas concert tours. Residents of Munich still remember the Bruckner symphonies, sacred music and contemporary repertoire he conducted.
Next was Rafael Kubelík (1961-1979), who systematically expanded the orchestra’s repertoire to include the music of Smetana, Janáček and Dvořák, as well as making history by becoming the first to conduct the Mahler symphony cycle with a German orchestra. His impulsive, emotionally charged interpretations won the hearts of audiences.
With Sir Colin Davis as Head Conductor (1983-1992), the orchestra gained a recognised Berlioz specialist who likewise performed the Viennese classics wonderfully. And, of course, he enriched the orchestra’s repertoire with English composers Edward Elgar, Michael Tippett and Ralph Vaughan Williams.
This was followed by the Lorin Maazel era (1993-2002), which was memorable with its performances of the full symphonic cycles of Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler and Schubert.
A new and mutually pleasurable page in the history of the BRSO was opened in 2003, when Mariss Jansons began working with the orchestra. At the time, he was the favourite candidate for all of the orchestra’s musicians. Within a short while, Jansons was able to not only create an atmosphere which promoted the highest artistic standards, but also a very close emotional link with the musicians. Jansons’ repertoire is extensive and includes music from the Classical and Romantic eras, as well as 20th and 21st century music.
The orchestra has collaborated with many leading record labels, and in 2009 they formed their own label, BR-Klassik. Their albums have won the most significant industry awards including a Grammy (Shostakovich’s 13th Symphony with Mariss Jansons, 2006), Diapason d’Or (Mahler’s 6th Symphony with Daniel Harding, 2016), BBC Music Magazine (Mahler’s 3rd Symphony with Bernard Haitink) and Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik (Bruckner’s 8th Symphony with Jansons, 2018).
The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra is often ranked among the world’s top ten orchestras. Their performances are also enjoyed by Latvian audiences. Particularly praised was the performance given by the BRSO and Jansons in 2018 as part of the Born in Latvia concert cycle dedicated to Latvia’s Centenary.