The New York Philharmonic, founded in 1842 by a group of local musicians led by American-born Ureli Corelli Hill, is by far the oldest symphony orchestra in the United States, and one of the oldest in the world. It currently plays some 180 concerts a year, and on December 18, 2004, gave its 14,000th concert — a milestone unmatched by any other symphony orchestra in the world.
Lorin Maazel, who began his tenure as music director in September 2002, is the latest in a distinguished line of 20th-century musical giants that has included Kurt Masur (Music Director from 1991 to the summer of 2002; named Music Director Emeritus in 2002); Zubin Mehta (1978-91); Pierre Boulez (1971-77); and Leonard Bernstein, who was appointed Music Director in 1958 and given the lifetime title of Laureate Conductor in 1969.
Since its inception the orchestra has championed the new music of its time, commissioning or premiering many important works, such as Dvorák’s “Symphony No. 9,” “From the New World”; Rachmaninoff ‘s “Piano Concerto No. 3”; Gershwin’s “Concerto in F”; and Copland’s “Connotations,” in addition to the U.S. premieres of works such as Beethoven’s symphonies 8 and 9 and Brahms’ “Symphony No. 4.” This pioneering tradition has continued to the present day, with works of major contemporary composers scheduled each season, including John Adams’ Pulitzer®- and Grammy® Award-winning “On the Transmigration of Souls”; Stephen Hartke’s “Symphony No. 3”; Augusta Read Thomas’ “Gathering Paradise: Emily Dickinson Settings” (for soprano and orchestra); and Esa-Pekka Salonen’s “Piano Concerto.”
The roster of composers and conductors who have led the Philharmonic includes such historic figures as Theodore Thomas, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, AntonÌn Dvor´k, Gustav Mahler (Music Director, 1909-11), Otto Klemperer, Richard Strauss, Willem Mengelberg (Music Director, 1922-30), Wilhelm Furtwängler, Arturo Toscanini (Music Director, 1928-36), Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Bruno Walter (Music Advisor, 1947-49), Dimitri Mitropoulos (Music Director, 1949-58), Klaus Tennstedt, George Szell (Music Advisor, 1969-70), and Erich Leinsdorf.
The Philharmonic, long a leader in American musical life, has over the last century become renowned around the globe, appearing in 421 cities in 58 countries on five continents, in capitals such as London, Paris, São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, and Tokyo.
A longtime media pioneer, the Philharmonic began radio broadcasts in 1922 and is currently represented by THE NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC THIS WEEK — syndicated nationally every week and available on nyphil.org and XM Satellite Radio. The orchestra’s concerts are also broadcast throughout Europe on BBC Radio 3. On television, in the 1950s and ’60s, the Philharmonic inspired a generation through Bernstein’s YOUNG PEOPLE’S CONCERTS on CBS. Its television presence has continued with annual appearances on LIVE FROM LINCOLN CENTER on PBS, and in 2003 it made history as the first orchestra ever to perform live on the Grammy® Awards, one of the most-watched television events worldwide. Most recently, the Philharmonic became the first major American orchestra to offer downloadable concerts, recorded live and released by DG Concerts exclusively on iTunes. Since 1917 the Philharmonic has made nearly 2,000 recordings, of which more than 500 are currently available.