For 188 years, the Philharmonic State Orchestra has embodied the sound of the Hansa City. The orchestra’s origins go back to the year 1828, when a "Philharmonic Society" was founded in Hamburg, soon becoming a meeting-place for important artists, for example Clara Schumann, Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms. Great artist personalities conducted the orchestra – Piotr Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Sergey Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky among them. The year 1902 already saw the 500th concert of the Philharmonic Society, and in 1908 the Laeiszhalle was inaugurated with a gala concert. Since the 20th century, chief conductors such as Karl Muck, Eugen Jochum, Joseph Keilberth, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Gerd Alrecht, Aldo Ceccato, Ingo Metzmacher and Simone Young have shaped the orchestra’s sound. Conductors such as Otto Klemperer, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Bruno Walter, Karl Böhm and Horst Stein gave brilliant guest performances.
Starting with the 2015/2016 season, Kent Nagano has taken on the position of Hamburg’s General Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Philharmonic State Orchestra and the Hamburg State Opera. In addition to the traditional Philharmonic Concerts, Kent Nagano has initiated a new project, the Philharmonic Academy at St. Michaelis, focusing on experimentation and chamber music. Another new format is "Music and Science", an interdisciplinary cooperation with the Max Planck Society.
Chamber Music has a long tradition at the Philharmonic State Orchestra: what began in 1929 with a concert series for chamber orchestra has been continued since 1968 by a series of chamber music only. Thus, the Philharmonic offers approximately 30 orchestral and chamber music concerts per season. Furthermore, the Philharmonic State Orchestra performs more than 200 opera and ballet performances per year at the Hamburg State Opera, making it Hamburg’s busiest orchestra. The stylistic bandwidth covered by the 125 musicians, ranging from historically informed performance practice to contemporary works, from concert to opera repertoire, is unique throughout Germany. In 2008 Simone Young and the Philharmonic State Orchestra won the Brahms Award of the Schleswig-Holstein Brahms Society. In 2012 Simone Young received a Helpmann Award for performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 and Wagner’s Rheingold with the Philharmonic in Brisbane, Australia. The orchestra has recorded the complete symphonies of Johannes Brahms and Anton Bruckner, as well as a complete Ring by Wagnerand works by Mahler and Hindemith.
The members of the Philharmonic State Orchestra feel equally beholden to the Hansa City’s musical tradition and responsible for the city’s artistic future. Since 1978 the musicians have been participating in education programmes in Hamburg’s schools. To this day, the TV format Musikkontakte initiated by Gerd Albrecht during his tenure as General Music Director is unforgotten. Today, Musikkontakte encompasses a broad education effort including school and kindergarten visits, patronage for music projects, introductory events for children and family concerts. The Philharmonic’s musicians thereby make an equally enjoyable and valuable contribution to tomorrow’s music education in the music metropolis of Hamburg.