The first concert of Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra took place on 5th November 1901 in the newly built Philharmonic Hall. This inaugural concert was conducted by Emil Młynarski, co-founder, first music director and principal conductor of the Philharmonic. The soloist was the world-famous pianist, composer and future statesman Ignacy Jan Paderewski. The programme of this historic concert included Paderewski’s Piano Concerto in A minor and works by other Polish composers: Chopin, Moniuszko, Noskowski, Stojowski and Żeleński.
The Warsaw Philharmonic quickly achieved a high level of musicianship, attracting outstanding soloists and conductors from all over the world. Before World War I and in the inter-war period, Warsaw Philharmonic was the main centre of musical activity in Poland and one of the major musical institutions in Europe. Most of the leading conductors and soloists of the day performed in Warsaw with the city’s Philharmonic Orchestra, including Edvard Grieg, Arthur Honegger, Otto Klemperer, Sergei Prokofiev, Sergei Rachmaninov, Maurice Ravel, Artur Rodziński, Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, Claudio Arrau, Vladimir Horowitz, Wilhelm Kempff, Arthur Rubinstein, Bronisław Huberman, Pablo Sarasate and Richard Strauss.
After suffering extensive damage during World War II, in the post-war period the Warsaw Philharmonic was initially directed by Olgierd Straszyński and Andrzej Panufnik. In January 1950, Witold Rowicki was appointed director and principal conductor and organised a new ensemble. Despite precarious conditions including the lack of its own hall (performances were organised in sports halls and theatres), the Orchestra, through Rowicki’s efforts, became a leading Polish ensemble.
On 21st February 1955, the newly rebuilt Philharmonic Hall on Jasna St. was opened. On that day, Warsaw Philharmonic was granted the status of the National Philharmonic of Poland. This represented the status achieved in Poland by the Philharmonic as the leading musical institution in the country.
Between 1955 and 1958, the Orchestra was directed by Bohdan Wodiczko, an outstanding musician and enthusiast of modern music. Other conductors included Arnold Rezler and Stanisław Skrowaczewski. The orchestra was enlarged and modified. Performances of modern music achieved great success leading in October 1956 to the establishment of the International Festival of Contemporary Music, known as “Warsaw Autumn”. With time, it became one of the world’s most important festivals of its kind. In 1958 Witold Rowicki was again appointed artistic director and principal conductor of the Philharmonic, a post he held until 1977. Permanent conductors in that period included Stanisław Wisłocki and Andrzej Markowski. It was under Rowicki’s direction that foreign tours and appearances in prestigious halls worldwide became a staple of the orchestra’s activity.
On 1st July 1977, Kazimierz Kord was appointed artistic director and principal conductor of the Warsaw Philharmonic. From the beginning of his work with the Orchestra, he put an emphasis on building a broader repertoire. As a result, alongside symphonies, oratorios and operas as well as contemporary works were introduced in the programmes. New ventures included The National Philharmonic Presents series of concerts, recorded live and released on the Polskie Nagrania label. Graduates of the Warsaw Music Academy were invited to appear as soloists. Kazimierz Kord and Witold Lutosławski also introduced the formula of a short festival of modern music combining different art disciplines; the Lutosławski Forum was born, currently organised bi-annually. Between 1979 and 1990, Tadeusz Strugała served as artistic director and conductor of the National Philharmonic. Kazimierz Kord was followed between 2002 and 2013 by Antoni Wit, who continued the repertoire policy of his predecessor, adding more Polish music, often performer by foreign musicians, as well as concert performances of leading operas. Antoni Wit also introduced seasonal composers-in-residence whose works played a prominent role in a given season and who contributed to the programming of modern music. He also greatly developed the Warsaw Philharmonic’s discography, recording over 50 CDs, mostly for Naxos and winning a number of awards including the 2012 Grammy; the Orchestra’s repertoire focuses on Polish composers such as Mieczysław Karłowicz, Karol Szymanowski, Witold Lutosławski, Krzysztof Penderecki, Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, and Wojciech Kilar.
Starting with the 2013/14 season, the new general director will be Wojciech Nowak, who has been deputy director for 16 years. The new artistic director, responsible for developing the Philharmonic’s ensembles, programming, and contracting guest appearances, is Jacek Kaspszyk.
The Warsaw Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra has made over 140 tours on five continents. It has performed in all the major concert halls, winning applause from the audiences and critics for their charismatic music-making. It has appeared at many international festivals including Vienna, Berlin, Prague, Bergen, Lucerne, Montreux, Moscow, Brussels, Florence, Bordeaux, Athens, La Folle Journée in Nantes, Bilbao, Lisbon and Tokyo. The Orchestra makes regular appearances at the International F. Chopin Piano Competition, the Warsaw Autumn Festival, Chopin and His Europe Festival, and the Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival. It makes recordings for the Polish Radio and Television, Polish and international record companies, and records film music. Apart from leading Polish musicians, the Warsaw Philharmonic has hosted many eminent artists from all over the world, including Hermann Abendroth, Martha Argerich, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Kathleen Battle, Joshua Bell, Teresa Berganza, Gary Bertini, Herbert Blomstedt, Ian Bostridge, Alfred Brendel, Giuliano Carmignola, Charles Dutoit, Philippe Entremont, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Philippe Herreweghe, Robert Holl, Marek Janowski, Sumi Jo, Nigel Kennedy, Aram Khachaturian, Evgeny Kissin, Gidon Kremer, Lang Lang, Felicity Lott, Radu Lupu, Lorin Maazel, Mischa Maisky, Igor Markevitch, Kurt Masur, Yehudi Menuhin, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Midori, Marc Minkowski, Shlomo Mintz, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Kent Nagano, David and Igor Oistrakh, Murray Perahia, Maurizio Pollini, Sviatoslav Richter, Helmuth Rilling, Mstislav Rostropovich, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Artur Rubinstein, Jordi Savall, András Schiff, Isaac Stern, Leopold Stokowski, Igor Stravinsky, Henryk Szeryng, Arcadi Volodos, and many others.