The Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra gave its first concert on 5 November 1901 in the newly erected Philharmonic Hall. This inaugural concert was conducted by Emil Młynarski, the Philharmonic’s first Music Director and Principal Conductor and featured the world-famous pianist, composer, and future statesman Ignacy Jan Paderewski. The all-Polish programme of that historic concert included Paderewski’s Piano Concerto in A minor as well as works by Chopin, Moniuszko, Noskowski, Stojowski, and Żeleński.
The Warsaw Philharmonic’s rapid rise of performance level soon attracted distinguished European artists: Edvard Grieg, Richard Strauss and Artur Nikisch to name but few. As early as the 1910s and during the interwar years, it established itself as the main centre of musical life in Poland and one of the major musical institutions in Europe. Performances were given here by many famous conductors and soloists of the day including Claudio Arrau, Arthur Honegger, Vladimir Horowitz, Bronisław Huberman, Otto Klemperer, Sergei Prokofiev, Sergei Rachmaninov, Maurice Ravel, Artur Rodziński, Artur Rubinstein.
During the first postwar years the Warsaw Philharmonic was conducted by Olgierd Straszyński and Andrzej Panufnik, among others. In January 1950 Witold Rowicki became Director and Principal Conductor, and embarked on establishing a new orchestra. Despite the difficult working conditions related to a lack of venue (concerts were given in various sport halls and theatres), thanks to Rowicki’s efforts the orchestra regained its position as Poland’s leading ensemble.
The opening of the new Philharmonic Hall on Warsaw’s Jasna Street, on the site earlier destroyed by German bombing raids, took place on 21 February 1955. On that day the Warsaw Philharmonic received the title of the National Philharmonic, highlighting its status as the leading musical institution of Poland.
In 1955–58 the orchestra’s Director was Bohdan Wodiczko, a distinguished promoter of contemporary music who cooperated with among others Arnold Rezler and Stanisław Skrowaczewski. The orchestral forces were transformed and enlarged. The enormous success enjoyed by performances of twentieth-century music contributed to the establishment of the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music, which with time, became one of the most important festivals of its kind in the world.
In 1958 Witold Rowicki was once again appointed Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Philharmonic, a post he held until 1977. The Orchestra’s principal guest conductors at the time were Stanislaw Wisłocki and Andrzej Markowski. During Rowicki’s directorship, foreign concert tours and performances in prestigious concert halls throughout the world became a permanent feature of the orchestra’s artistic schedule.
On 1 July 1977, the post of Artistic Director and Principal Conductor was taken up by Kazimierz Kord who held this position until the Philharmonic’s centenary in 2001. He emphasised on extension of the repertoire, including oratorio and operatic works as well as many works of contemporary music. New initiatives also included the concert cycle The National Philharmonic Presents, recorded live and released by Polskie Nagrania, as well as concerts of undergraduates of Warsaw’s Academy of Music. Together with Witold Lutosławski, Kazimierz Kord put forward the idea of short contemporary music festivals combining various disciplines of the arts. The first of these festivals took place after the Lutosławski’s death and was named Lutosławski Forum in his honour. From 2002 to 2013 the Managing and Artistic Director of the Warsaw Philharmonic was Antoni Wit, who continued the repertoire policy of his predecessor but increased the presence of Polish music, often performed by foreign artists. Under his baton, various ensembles of the Warsaw Philharmonic recorded over fifty CD albums, of which forty for Naxos. These recordings of mainly Polish composers (Karłowicz, Szymanowski, Lutosławski, Penderecki, Górecki, and Kilar) received several awards, among them a 2012Grammy. In August 2013, Antoni Wit concluded his tenure with a debut performance at the BBC Proms.
From the 2013/14 season the post of Music and Artistic Director, is held by Jacek Kaspszyk who opened his tenure on 1 September 2013, conducting the final concert of the Chopin and His Europe Festival followed on 22 September by an historic Warsaw Autumn Festival concert of Lutosławski’s Piano Concerto and Symphony no. 3 with pianist Krystian Zimerman, the latter also a highlight of the Lutosławski Year. Kaspszyk also conducted the first livestreamed concerts in the history of the Philharmonic.
The Warsaw Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra has made 140 tours on five continents and has appeared in almost every major concert hall, being warmly received by audiences and praised by music critics for its dynamic performances. The orchestra has also performed at many prestigious international festivals including Vienna, Berlin, Prague, Bergen, Lucerne, Montreux, Moscow, Brussels, Florence, Bordeaux, and Athens as well as the La Folle Journée festivals in Nantes, Bilbao, Lisbon, and Tokyo. The Warsaw Philharmonic also regularly participates in the Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition, Warsaw Autumn Festival, Chopin and His Europe Festival, and the Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival. It records for Polish Radio and TV, Polish and foreign record labels as well as film companies.
The roster of international conductors and soloists who have appeared with the Warsaw Philharmonic is almost endless. Alongside the most distinguished Polish artists it includes Hermann Abendroth, Martha Argerich, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Kathleen Battle, Joshua Bell, Teresa Berganza, Gary Bertini, Herbert Blomstedt, Ian Bostridge, Alfred Brendel, Giuliano Carmignola, Aram Khachaturian, Charles Dutoit, Philippe Entremont, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Hélène Grimaud, Philippe Herreweghe, Robert Holl, Marek Janowski, Sumi Jo, Nigel Kennedy, Evgeny Kissin, Magdalena Kožena, Gidon Kremer, Lang Lang, Felicity Lott, Radu Lupu, Lorin Maazel, Mischa Maisky, Igor Markevitch, Kurt Mazur, Yehudi Menuhin, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Midori, Marc Minkowski, Shlomo Mintz, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Kent Nagano, David and Igor Oistrakh, Murray Perahia, Maurizio Pollini, Simon Rattle, Sviatoslav Richter, Helmuth Rilling, Mstislav Rostropovich, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Artur Rubinstein, Jordi Savall, András Schiff, Isaac Stern, Leopold Stokowski, Igor Stravinsky, Henryk Szeryng, and Arcadi Volodos.