The Russian National Orchestra (RNO) was founded in 1990 by pianist and conductor Mikhail Pletnev. “The Russian National Orchestra began as a courageous demonstration of artistic freedom during the Soviet regime. Now, over a quarter century later, it is recognized as one of the world’s top orchestras. From the orchestra’s inception, Founder and Music Director Mikhail Pletnev and his musicians have built something inspirational: an artistically and financially independent institution with the courage and will to remain true to itself in the face of all obstacles. It is the only orchestra in Russia’s history to exist outside government control.
The RNO has been one of Russia’s leading ambassadors of good will, representing ideals of artistic excellence and innovation, organizational and financial integrity, and a commitment to tolerance and understanding. Individuals, foundations and corporations alike have discovered what it means to support an orchestra of this caliber, and to cross the cultural bridge that these artists have built over borders and oceans.” Thus the orchestra describes its mission and vision.
The RNO has inspired such enthusiastic reviews as “a living symbol of the best in Russian art,” (Miami Herald), and “as close to perfect as one could hope for” (Trinity Mirror). “It takes a pretty special Pathétique to make a London concert critic sit up these days, but special is the word here… There’s poetry, subtlety, mood-painting that is rich but never over-ripe and – yes – dignity. The revelations don’t stop there. No one should be surprised to hear that a Russian orchestra can be soul-searching, but the tonal sophistication and superbly judged balance are something new.” (Observer).
The significance of the orchestra and Pletnev to Russian culture is shown by the fact that it was the first independent orchestra to receive Russian state financing. In 2009, its was awarded the status of State Orchestra.
The orchestra regularly performs in the world’s major concert halls and festivals, including the Edinburgh, Schleswig-Holstein, Gstaad, the BBC Proms and Napa Valley Festivals. Since 2009, it has organised its own festival every September to open the concert season in Moscow, which has become a favourite with Moscow audiences.
The Russian National Orchestra has taken part in many special concerts, such as the concert to honour Benedict XVI in the Paul VI Audience Hall, Vatican (2010), a memorial concert for the Beslan school siege (2007), a performance of Metropolitan Hilarion’s Passion According to St. Matthew with the Moscow Synodal Choir at Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia (2014), and a performance of Vyacheslav Artyomov’s Requiem at a concert commemorating the centenary of the Armenian genocide (2015). In 2017, the orchestra triumphed at the Russian Romantics festival in Bogota, Colombia. In 2018, the RNO opened the Russian Culture Festival with a concert in Tokyo’s Suntory Hall; this concert was the culmination of the orchestra’s tour to Taiwan, Korea and Japan.
In 2015, the orchestra and Pletnev founded the Sergei Rachmaninoff Festival in the composer’s family estate Ivankova (Tambov), which is now a museum to the composer.
In 2008, British magazine Gramophone included the RNO in its list of the world’s 20 best orchestras. The orchestra has performed with world-class soloists – Montserrat Caballé, Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, Gidon Kremer, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Vadim Repin, Evgeny Kissin, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Maxim Vengerov, Bella Davidovich, Joshua Bell and many others.
Conductors such as Semyon Bychkov, Ingo Metzmacher, Paavo Berglund, Vladimir Jurowski, Kristjan Järvi, Paavo Jarvi, Charles Dutoit, Christoph Eschenbach and others have worked with the orchestra. Russian conducting legend Yevgeny Svetlanov gave his last ever concert in Moscow with the RNO. Meanwhile, Kent Nagano, who has collaborated with the orchestra many times, says the following: “In RNO performances, you feel that bright character, with their playing they remind you that Russian culture is one of the greatest in the world. Yes, they play wonderfully, yes, they are top professionals, yes, the orchestra has many excellent soloists, but all this hides something much greater: a deep cultural tradition that can be heard in their playing.”
The orchestra’s discography contains more than one hundred albums, with successful collaborations with Pentatone, Deutsche Grammophon and other record companies. In 2004, the RNO and Kent Nagano’s recording of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Jean-Pascal Beintus’ Wolf Tracks, with Sophia Loren and Bill Clinton in the roles of narrator, as well as comments by Mikhail Gorbachev, won a Grammy award, becoming the first Russian orchestra to win a Grammy. In 2015, the RNO and Paavo Jarvi’s recording of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 was nominated for a Grammy. This recording also won a French Diapason d’Or award. The orchestra’s recordings are included regularly on best album lists in BBC Music Magazine, Gramophone, Classic FM and others, as well as winning a German ECHO Klassik award.
International critics don’t hesitate to call the RNO Russia’s best symphony orchestra.
The orchestra’s musicians enjoy performing in chamber ensembles. A string quartet was founded in the orchestra’s founding year. In 2000, the RNO Wind Quintet was founded, which won at the Osaka International Chamber Music Competition five years later. In 2003, the youngest generation of the orchestra’s musicians founded the ensemble RNO oboe+strings. Other ensembles include a string quintet, the string trio Ludwig, a woodwind ensemble and a double bass ensemble. The RNO’s chamber ensembles perform in Russia and worldwide.
Every spring, as part of the Magic of Music programme, musicians from the orchestra perform for children in boarding schools, special-needs kindergartens and children’s hospitals.