Founded in 1952, the Münchner Rundfunkorchester has developed over the course of its 65-year history to an ensemble with a wideranging artistic spectrum, and this outstanding versatility has placed it in a position all its own on Munich’s orchestra landscape. Concert performances of operas featuring renowned vocal soloists at Sunday Concerts and the “Paradisi gloria” series presenting sacred music from the 20th and 21st centuries number among its many assignments, as do children’s and young people’s concerts with supplementary educational programs, entertaining theme evenings called “Wednesdays at 7:30” and music from film scores. Proof that the Münchner Rundfunkorchester has its hand on the pulse of the times can be found in the regularly recurring crossover programs linking classics and pop.
The parade of the Münchner Rundfunkorchester’s chief conductors is led on by Werner Schmidt-Boelcke (1952–1967) followed by Kurt Eichhorn (1967–1975), Heinz Wallberg (1975–1981), Lamberto Gardelli (1982–1985), Giuseppe Patané (1988–1989) and Roberto Abbado (1992–1998). From 1998 to 2004, Marcello Viotti was Chief Conductor of the orchestra. His special passion was the French and Italian operatic repertoires, and the “Paradisi gloria” concert series, presenting modern sacred music, is also largely attributable to his initiative. Ulf Schirmer served as Artistic Director of the Münchner Rundfunkorchester from September of 2006 to August of 2017. With a program that runs the gamut from world premières of commissioned works in the “Paradisi gloria” series to interesting rediscoveries in the operatic and operetta repertoire, he set fascinating accents in content. Chief conductor-elect is Ivan Repušić, who assumes his role at the start of season 2017/2018.
The 2006/2007 season also marked the start of the orchestra’s collaboration with the August Everding Theatre Academy; this joint effort has brought a number of fully staged opera productions to audiences at Munich’s Prinzregententheater. The orchestra’s devotion to youth work includes its participation in the ARD International Music Competition and also its implementation of the international “Choice Voices” singing competition („Vokal genial“) in memoriam Marcello Viotti in association with the Munich Concert Society. Considerable attention is also devoted to programs for children and young people, all based on a three-pillar structure including teacher training, school visits by the musicians, followed by concert attendance for the children. Beyond this, the “Classy Classics” program, in which selected school orchestras perform together with members of the Münchner Rundfunkorchester, also figures importantly among the orchestra’s activities.
In addition, other regular assignments are guest appearances at prestigious Festivals such as the Kissinger Sommer and the Richard-Strauss-Festival in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. This involves accompanying singers like Edita Gruberová and Diana Damrau as well as cellist Mischa Maisky, among others; at the Salzburg Festival, the orchestra has accompanied Anna Netrebko, Elīna Garanča, Plácido Domingo and Rolando Villazón, to mention but a few. Recent highlights also include guest appearances with the Opéra Royal in Versailles and at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna with exciting operatic rediscoveries, unearthed in cooperation with the Palazzetto Bru Zane Foundation, as well as a tour with Jonas Kaufmann. Thanks to its CD recordings, the Münchner Rundfunkorchester is a regular fixture on the audio market. Here, blue-ribbon singer portraits and many complete recordings of works ranging from Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd to Gounod’s Cinq-Mars are worthy of special mention. Last but far from least, the BR-Klassik label released a collection of treasures from the archives entitled Great Verdi Voices featuring such legendary artists as Leontyne Price, Nicolai Gedda and Franco Bonisolli.