The Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra gave its first concert in the newly erected Philharmonic Hall on 5 November 1901. The Orchestra was conducted by Emil Młynarski, the Philharmonic’s co‑founder, first Music Director and conductor. Its star performer and soloist was the statesman, composer and pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski, who at that time was at the height of his international career and was also one of the Philharmonic’s donors. He performed his Piano Concerto in A Minor as well as Chopin’s solo works. In addition, the concert programme featured works by Moniuszko, Żeleński and Stojowski.
Warsaw Philharmonic’s rapidly rising performance standards soon attracted outstanding artists from all over the world. Both before the First World War and during the interwar period, it established itself as the main centre of musical life in Poland and one of the most prominent musical institutions in Europe. Nearly all famous conductors and soloists of the day performed here, including Claudio Arrau, Edvard Grieg, Arthur Honegger, Vladimir Horowitz, Bronisław Huberman, Wilhelm Kempff, Otto Klemperer, Sergei Prokofiev, Sergei Rachmaninov, Maurice Ravel, Artur Rodziński, Arthur Rubinstein, Pablo Sarasate, and Richard Strauss.
In the first years after the Second World War, the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra was managed by Olgierd Straszyński and Andrzej Panufnik, among others. In January 1950, the post of Director and Principal Conductor was taken up by Witold Rowicki, who set about establishing a new orchestra. Despite difficult working conditions (due to the lack of a concert hall, performances were given in various sports halls and theatres) Rowicki soon turned the Orchestra into Poland’s leading ensemble.
On 21 February 1955, a new Philharmonic Hall was opened in Jasna Street, erected on the site of its predecessor, which had been destroyed by German air raids. On that day, the Warsaw Philharmonic received the title of a national institution, which highlighted its rank as the most important such establishment in Poland.
In the years 1955–1958, the Orchestra was headed by Bohdan Wodiczko – a distinguished promoter of contemporary music, who collaborated with, among others, Arnold Rezler and Stanisław Skrowaczewski. During his tenure, the Orchestra was transformed and enlarged. The enormous popularity of 20th‑century music performances led to the inception of the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music, which in time became one of the most important festivals of its kind in the world. In 1958, Witold Rowicki was appointed Artistic Director and Principal Conductor once again, and held this post until 1977. The Orchestra’s guest conductors of that time were Stanislaw Wisłocki and Andrzej Markowski. Under the direction of Rowicki, international concert tours and performances in the world’s most prestigious concert venues became a permanent fixture in the Orchestra’s calendar.
On 1 July 1977, the post of Artistic Director and Principal Conductor was offered to Kazimierz Kord, who performed this role up until the Philharmonic’s centenary year in 2001. In 1979–1990, the Orchestra’s Deputy Director and Conductor was Tadeusz Strugała. From the very beginning of his work, Kazimierz Kord focused on expanding the Orchestra’s concert repertoire, which in the following seasons resulted not only in new symphonic works but also large oratorio and opera productions together with contemporary pieces.
Other new initiatives included the “The Warsaw Philharmonic Presents” concert series, recorded live and released by Polskie Nagrania, as well as concerts of graduates of the Academy of Music in Warsaw. Together with Witold Lutosławski, Kord promoted the idea of short, contemporary music festivals, which would serve as a forum for various disciplines of the arts. The first such festival was organised after the composer’s death and was called “Lutosławski Forum” in his honour. Initially held annually, it later transformed into a biannual event, and continued until the 2013 Lutosławski Year.
From 2002 until 2013 the post of General and Artistic Director of the Warsaw Philharmonic was held by Antoni Wit, who adopted the same philosophy regarding the institution’s repertoire as his predecessor, adding to it even more Polish music, often performed by foreign artists. Under his baton, the Warsaw Philharmonic ensembles recorded over fifty albums, including almost forty on the Naxos label. The albums, featuring mainly Polish music composed by Karłowicz, Szymanowski, Lutosławski, Penderecki, Górecki, and Kilar, have been showered with a plethora of awards, including the prestigious Grammy 2013. Antoni Wit concluded his tenure with the Orchestra’s debut at the BBC Proms in London in August 2013.
In the 2013/2014 season, the duties of Artistic Director, responsible for the development of the Philharmonic ensembles, their repertoire and guest artists, were handed over to Jacek Kaspszyk. His historic concert at the 2013 Warsaw Autumn Festival, featuring the pianist Krystian Zimerman, became one of the highlights of the Lutosławski Year (the concert programme included Lutosławski’s Piano Concerto and Symphony No. 3) and won the Polish Music Coryphaeus Award in the “Event of the Year” category. He also conducted the first live streamed performances in the history of the Philharmonic. Under his baton, the Orchestra recorded six albums: the works of Weinberg (2014), Brahms and Bach (in Schönberg’s arrangements, 2015), Szymanowski (2017), Wieniawski’s and Shostakovich’s violin concertos with the soloist Bomsori Kim, an album with Polish music (Młynarski, Weinberg, Penderecki, 2018) for Warner Classics, and also one featuring the works of Chopin, with Ingolf Wunder as soloist, for Deutsche Grammophon (2015).
In the 2019/2020 season, the post of Artistic Director will be taken up by Andrey Boreyko.
The Warsaw Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra has made over 150 concert tours around five continents, and has appeared in all of the world’s major concert venues, each time receiving high acclaim from audiences and critics alike for its superb and charismatic interpretations. The ensemble has performed at many prestigious international festivals, including in Vienna, Berlin, Prague, Bergen, Lucerne, Montreux, Moscow, Brussels, Florence, Bordeaux, Athens, Bilbao, Lisbon, and Tokyo, as well as at the La Folle Journée Festival in Nantes. The Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra participates regularly in the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition, the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music, the Chopin and His Europe International Music Festival, and the Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival. It has recorded for Polish Radio, Polish and foreign record labels, and film companies. In 2016, the Orchestra also launched regular on‑line streaming of selected concerts.