The Philharmonic Orchestra was founded on April 8, 1889 under the name “Städtisches Orchester”. This point in time initially marks the integration of the orchestra into the municipal administration. Even before that, the musical culture in Heidelberg is very much alive.
At the beginning there is a “music association”, which has been documented since 1812 and which essentially consists of amateur musicians. As the “Heidelberg City Orchestra”, the orchestra received municipal subsidies from 1839 onwards. The work of the municipal orchestra consists mainly of light music in the first few years. This changes due to the commitment of the first important conductor, Philipp Wolfrum, who, as the founder and conductor of the Heidelberg Bach Choir, had played with the orchestra for many years. In parallel to Wolfrum as the then university music director, Paul Radig works as the municipal music director.
In the Wolfrum era, Heidelberg was a stronghold of contemporary music and the municipal orchestra was an influential institution in music history: Richard Strauss Days were held as early as 1893. In 1901 Jean Sibelius experienced his first international success at the Heidelberger Tonkünstlerfest of the Allgemeine Deutsche Musikverein when he conducted two legends from the “Lemminkäinen Suite” in a festival concert. In 1913 there was a Heidelberg Music Festival entirely focused on Johann Sebastian Bach and Max Reger. The city music director Kurt Overhoff brought a new break in concert life, taking over the management of the symphony concerts in 1931 and assigning the orchestra to new responsibilities in the years to come. Overhoff had to give up his activity in 1940 due to illness. During the Second World War, Heidelberg’s musical life was sustained primarily by well-known guest conductors.
As early as August 1945 Hermann Meinhard Poppen was able to reintroduce the concert series of the city and the Bach society with the municipal orchestra, which was partly made up of local forces, and the Bach Society in the castle courtyard. The appointment of music director Fritz Henn then brings the full reintroduction of concert and opera operations and also increases the number of permanent positions considerably.
There was a continuous upward trend in 1954 with the appointment of Karl Rucht as director of the municipal orchestra. Rucht, former solo trumpeter of the Berlin Philharmonic, is already General Music Director of the Palatinate Orchestra Ludwigshafen and is now taking over the Heidelberg Municipal Orchestra as the second orchestra in a leading position. He uses his dual position to enable close cooperation between the two orchestras and to be able to perform large-scale works in this way. The collaboration between the Pfalzorchester Ludwigshafen and the Städtisches Orchester Heidelberg lasted until 1960.
After the Karl Rucht era, Hans Blümer, 1st Kapellmeister of the Städtische Bühne, took over the management of the orchestra for a year. He took on this task with great dedication in 1960-61 and 1972-73, so that the interim years never seemed like temporary arrangements. In the following years Kurt Brass, Christian Süss and Gerhard Schäfer led the municipal orchestra. Under Christian Süss, the first educational offers are set up: concerts for children and adults as well as concert rehearsals open to the public, which are also attended by school classes.
Born in Switzerland, Mario Venzago took over the management of the orchestra in 1986. His work as a conductor, pianist and accompanist as well as a composer shows a lively musical diversity. Venzago’s wide-ranging programs of symphony and serenade concerts met with great interest and applause from the audience. He succeeds in increasing the orchestra by 8 positions. Mario Venzago has been honorary conductor of the Heidelberg Philharmonic Orchestra since 2007.
For the 1994/95 and 2006/07 seasons, the orchestra was awarded the prize for the “best concert program” by the German Association of Music Publishers. Concert tours have taken the orchestra to the Cologne Philharmonic, Antwerp and Ravenna in recent years. The concerts are regularly recorded by Deutschlandfunk and SWR. The Heidelberg Philharmonic Orchestra is characterized by its stylistic flexibility. Since 2006 the Philharmonic has been dealing with historical performance practice as part of the Winter Festival in Schwetzingen. The commitment to new music has a long tradition: several works were premiered by the Philharmonic Orchestra and are dedicated to it. Since 2005 the orchestra has been working intensively with an annually changing »composer for Heidelberg«. Music education is of particular importance. A family concert series is supplemented by piccolo and children’s concerts as well as a youth concert. In addition, the orchestra members are involved in schools and kindergartens and are often guests there. The youth project “Rap it Like Heidelberg” was awarded 1st prize in the competition for the “Tag der Musik 2010” from the German Music Council in 2010. In addition, the members of the orchestra regularly present themselves in changing formations in chamber concerts.
From 2005 to 2012 the now internationally acclaimed Cornelius Meister led the Philharmonic Orchestra in the position of General Music Director of the City of Heidelberg. He will be succeeded by GMD Yordan Kamdzhalov until 2014. Elias Grandy has been General Music Director of the Philharmoniker and the City of Heidelberg since the 2015 | 16 season. Today, the Heidelberg Philharmonic Orchestra, in unity with the Heidelberg City Theater under Artistic Director Holger Schultze, is an integral part of Heidelberg’s musical life and enriches the cultural scene in many ways.