The Gewandhausorchester is the oldest civic symphony orchestra in the world. The enterprise was founded in 1743 by a group of 16 musical philanthropists – representatives of the nobility as well as regular citizens – forming a concert society by the name of “Das Große Concert”. On taking residence in the trading house of the city’s textile merchants (the “Gewandhaus”) in 1781, the ensemble assumed the name Gewandhausorchester. Many celebrated musicians have been appointed to the office of Gewandhauskapellmeister (Music Director and Principal Conductor), including Johann Adam Hiller, Felix Mendealssohn Bartholdy, Arthur Nikisch and Kurt Masur. After his inauguration in 2005, Riccardo Chailly’s phenomenally successful tenure as Gewandhauskapellmeister came to an end in 2016. Andris Nelsons assumed the position of Gewandhauskapellmeister in the 2017/18 season.
The Gewandhausorchester’s unique contribution to Europe’s historical and current musical wealth has been recognized with the award of the European Cultural Heritage Label.
Music lovers worldwide revere the highly individual sound palette that distinguishes the Gewandhausorchester from all other symphony orchestras. This unique sound identity, along with the extraordinarily rich diversity of the repertoire which the Gewandhausorchester performs, is cultivated in over 200 performances each year in the Orchestra’s three “homes”: as concert orchestra in the Gewandhaus, orchestra of the Leipzig Opera and orchestra for the weekly performances of the cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach with the Thomanerchor in St. Thomas’s Church. No other elite symphony orchestra dedicates itself so intensively to the performance of the music of J.S. Bach.
The Gewandhausorchester has toured the globe on a regular basis since 1916 and enjoys almost unparalleled presence in the media of radio, television, CD and DVD.
Few other ensembles have exerted such significant and enduring influence on the development of the symphonic music tradition as the Gewandhausorchester. Throughout its history, the Orchestra has consistently attracted the collaborative energies of the world’s most eminent composers, conductors and soloists. The Gewandhausorchester performed a complete cycle of the symphonies of Beethoven during his lifetime (1825/26), as well as the first ever cycle of Bruckner’s symphonies to be mounted (1919/20). Wagner’s Prelude to “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg”, Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto “Emperor”, Brahms’ Violin Concerto and “Deutsches Requiem” and Bruckner’s 7th Symphony are just a fraction of the wealth of the core symphonic repertoire to be given its first performance by the Gewandhausorchester. The Orchestra commissions and premieres new works each season to this day.
A decisive contribution to the development of the symphonic repertoire must be attributed to the celebrated Gewandhauskapellmeister, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. During his tenure from 1835 until 1847, he presided over the first performances of numerous works from his own pen, for instance the Violin Concerto, the “Scottish Symphony” and his Overture to “Ruy Blas”, as well as the world premieres of many works of other composers, including Schubert’s C major Symphony “The Great” and Schumann’s 1st, 2nd and 4th symphonies. Through the introduction of new programming concepts – highly innovative for the time – Mendelssohn sharpened the Gewandhaus audiences’ awareness of the music of times past, most notably reviving the performance of the orchestral oeuvre of J.S. Bach.
It was on Mendelssohn’s initiative that Germany’s first conservatoire was founded, in Leipzig, in 1843 – the modern day University of Music and Theatre “Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy”. Following the principles established by Mendelssohn himself, the Gewandhausorchester and University collaborate in the form of the Mendelssohn Orchestra Academy, offering the most talented young musicians the opportunity to hone their skills to the level required by the world's elite orchestras. Graduates of the Orchesterakademie receive a master's degree from the University.
The CD and DVD productions released by the Gewandhausorchester since the turn of the millenium have been decorated with a plethora of international record awards, including a Golden Disc. Under the direction of Riccardo Chailly, the Decca label produced a complete cycle of Beethoven's symphonies and nine of his overtures (CD, 2007–2009) and a cycle of Brahms’ symphonies (CD, 2012–2013). Riccardo Chailly also led the Orchestra in numerous acclaimed DVD recordings of the symphonies of Gustav Mahler (accentus music, 2011–2015). To mark the occasion of Herbert Blomstedt’s 90th birthday in July 2017, a new complete cycle of Beethoven's symphonic oeuvre conducted by the Gewandhausorchester's Conductor Laureate was released by accentus music. This label has released two DVD productions with the Orchestra and the new Gewandhauskapellmeister, Andris Nelsons: Antonín Dvořák’s 9th Szmphony “From the New World” (released in February 2018) and Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto coupled with Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s “Scottish Symphony” (released in August 2018). Andris Nelsons is currently leading the Gewandhausorchester in the recording of a complete cycle of the symphonies of Anton Bruckner, produced on CD by Deutsche Grammophon. The 3rd Symphony formed the initial release in the spring of 2017, followed by No. 4 in February 2018 and No. 7. in April of that year. Symphonies No. 6 and 9 were released in May 2019.
As of May 2020