The Warsaw Philharmonic - The National Orchestra and Choir of Poland, which celebrated its centenary in 2001, is one of the oldest musical institutions in Europe. It was created thanks to the initiative of a group of Polish aristocrats and financiers: Natalia, Stefan and Stanisław Lubomirski, Maurycy and Tomasz Zamoyski, Władysław Tyszkiewicz, Leopold Julian Kronenberg (son of the founder of the Bank of Commerce) and, from the musical world: Ludwik Grossman, Emil Młynarski, Aleksander Rajchman, Marian Sokołowski, and others. The architect Karol Kozłowski designed the building in the Viennese Secession style, modelling it on the Paris Opera.
The first concert was held on 5 November 1901 and presented the music of Polish composers. Emil Młynarski, the co-founder, musical director and principal conductor of Warsaw Philharmonic, conducted the orchestra; the soloists were Wiktor Grąbczewski (bass) and Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the world famous pianist, composer and future statesman. From 1901 to 1939, the Warsaw Philharmonic was Poland's foremost cultural center, soon becoming one of the leading musical establishments in Europe.
Emil Młynarski, musical director from 1901 to 1905, was followed by Zygmunt Noskowski (1906-1908), Henryk Melcer (1908-1909), Grzegorz Fitelberg (1909-1911), Zdzisław Birnbaum (1911-1914 and 1916-1918), Roman Chojnacki (1918-1938) and Józef Ozimiński (1938-1939). The orchestra performed with many of the most famous artists of the time, including conductors such as Młynarski, Fitelberg, Karłowicz, Melcer, Noskowski, Nowowiejski, Rodziński, as well as Abendroth, Grieg, Honegger, Klemperer, Leoncavallo, Nikisch, Prokofiev, Rakhmaninov, Ravel, Saint-Saëns, R. Strauss and Stravinsky.
Among the soloists who played with the orchestra were the pianists: Askenase, Drzewiecki, Godowski, Małcużyński, Paderewski, Rubinstein as well as Arrau, Horowitz and Kempff; the violinists: Auer, Heifetz, Huberman, the Kochański brothers, Sarasate, Thibaud, Ysaye; the cellists: Casals, Cassadó, E. Kochański, Piatigorski, Wiłkomirski; the organists: Nowowiejski, Rączkowski, Szabelski; and the singers: Bandrowski, Bandrowska-Turska, Brégy, Comte-Wilgocka, Didur, Kiepura, A. Sari, Kruszelnicka-Biccioni, Szalapin, Wermińska.
It was in the Warsaw Philharmonic that the first three Chopin International Piano Competitions (1927, 1932, 1937), the first Wieniawski International Violin Competition (1935) and the first Universal Festival of Polish Art (1937) were held.
The Second World War interrupted the Philharmonic's activity: the building was destroyed and about half of the musicians perished. It reopened for the 1947-1948 season. The building was reconstructed in a totally new style and completed in 1955: on 21 February it inaugurated the season for the first time since the war within its own walls and received the title of the National Orchestra of Poland. In the years that followed, the orchestra grew in size and an organ was installed in the Concert Hall. A professional choir was also formed, founded by Zbigniew Soja. After the war, the musical directors were: Olgierd Straszyński (1945-1946), Andrzej Panufnik (1946-1947), Jan Maklakiewicz (1947-1948), Witold Rudziński (1948-1949), Władysław Raczkowski (1949-1950), Witold Rowicki, who reorganised the ensemble and gave it its present-day, modern dimension (1950-1955 and 1958-1977), Bohdan Wodiczko (1955-1958) and Kazimierz Kord who occupied the position from 1977 to 2001 and now holds the position of Honorary Director. The permanent conductors who worked with the Orchestra over the years were: Arnold Rezler, Stanisław Skrowaczewski, Stanisław Wisłocki, Andrzej Markowski and Tadeusz Strugała.
In 2002-13 Antoni Wit was the Managing and Artistic Director of Warsaw Philharmonic, and on 1st September 2013 Jacek Kaspszyk took up his duties as Artistic Director.
Today the Warsaw Philharmonic - National Orchestra and Choir of Poland is made up of 112 top-ranking musicians and 100 choral singers. Both ensembles have completed over one hundred tours on five continents. They are regularly invited to the best musical centers in the world, such as: Carnegie Hall, Chicago Symphony Hall, Berliner Philharmonie, Royal Festival Hall, Suntory Hall, La Scala and La Fenice. The Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra has performed in The Great Orchestras of the World cycle in London and has participated in leading musical festivals, notably the Athens Festival, the Bergen International Festival, the Berliner Festwochen, the Internationale Musikfestwochen Luzern, the Festival Montreux, the Prague Spring Festival, The Wratislavia Cantans, the Festival van Vlaanderen, the Maggio Musicale Florentino, the Interlochen Arts Festival and the Festival Due Mondi in Spoleto. The orchestra regularly takes part in the concerts of the International Festival of Contemporary Music "Warsaw Autumn" as well as the final rounds of the Chopin International Piano Competitions.
The Warsaw Philharmonic has made numerous recordings for Polish and foreign record companies, such as Polskie Nagrania, Pol-Music, Deutsche Grammophon, Philips and CD Accord. These latter recordings have won numerous awards and distinctions. The recordings present Polish music as represented by the works of Chopin, Szymanowski, Górecki, Lutosławski, Panufnik, Penderecki and Szymański, without neglecting the world repertoire, such as, for example, the complete Beethoven symphonies. The recordings of Krzysztof Penderecki's Seven Gates of Jerusalem and Roman Maciejewski's Requiem - Missa pro defunctis were world premiere recordings.
The Warsaw Philharmonic gives dozens of symphonic concerts, recitals and so-called chamber music evenings each season, at which the most eminent Polish and foreign artists perform. Artists coming from abroad have included the conductors: Gary Bertini, Herbert Blomstedt, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Aram Khachaturian, Charles Dutoit, Philippe Entremont, Neville Marriner, Yehudi Menuhin, Kurt Masur, Helmuth Rilling, Gennady Rozhdestvensky and Leopold Stokowski and famous soloists such as: Martha Argerich, Kathleen Battle, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Teresa Berganza, Nigel Kennedy, Evgeny Kissin, Jessye Norman, Midori, Shlomo Mintz, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Garrick Ohlsson, David Oistrakh, Murray Perahia, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Svyatoslav Richter, Mstislav Rostropovich, Henryk Szeryng, Renata Tebaldi, Krystian Zimerman, Pinchas Zukerman.
Among the guest orchestras to have performed are the Academy of St Martin in the Fields (Marriner), the Academy of Ancient Music (Hogwood), the BBC Symphony Orchestra (Boulez), the Berliner Philharmoniker (Barenboim), the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (Rattle), the Cleveland Orchestra (Szell), the Munich Philharmonic (Celibidache), the St Petersburg Philharmonic (Mravinsky), the Gewandhaus Orchestra (Masur), the Los Angeles Philharmonic (Mehta), the Montreal Symphony (Dutoit), the New York Philharmonic (Bernstein, Maazel), the Philadelphia Orchestra (Ormandy), the San Francisco Symphony (Bloomstedt) and many others.
An important annual event is the Lutosławski Forum which presents 20th century music accompanied by exhibits and discussions.
Youth concerts (Simply... Philharmonic! project) are also regularly organized, as well as concerts for children on Sundays and Mornings/Afternoons for Young Music Lovers. The Warsaw Philharmonic also fulfils an educational role by organizing thousands of concerts in schools and cultural centers throughout Poland.
The Warsaw Philharmonic building has two halls: the main concert hall with 1072 seats and the chamber music hall with 378 seats. Gala concerts, congresses, symposia, presentations and meetings are organized in them as well as in the adjoining rooms. The Warsaw Philharmonic has since its inception remained Poland's leading musical institution. Under the new Artistic Director Maestro Antoni Wit, the Warsaw Philharmonic is maintaining a high artistic level and ranks among the leading European symphony ensembles. It is a place for people wishing to immerse themselves in music of the best quality, as well as a place for meetings of the representatives of the international cultural, social and political establishment. A place visited by music-lovers from all over the world and by Kings, Presidents and Prime ministers. Room renting The Philharmonic Hall is an attractive venue not only for music-lovers. This place, normally peopled with musicians in black tailcoats, has a unique climate which suits academics, artists and businessmen equally well, and makes them frequently choose the Philharmonic as the place for their meetings.