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Home The Philharmonic Anniversaries The Bucharest Philharmoni...
The Bucharest Philharmonic: The "Oldest" Orchestra In Eastern Europe (1868)

By Viorel Cosma

Most symphonies in the world were born either out of ensembles that were in the "pits" of lyrical theatres, or out of private ensembles of European princes' courts, especially those which were constituted before 1800.

 

Among the oldest "bands" were those in Dresden (1548), Schwerin (1563), Weimar (1565), Braunschweig (1571) and Karlsruhe (16th century). It is important to know that, on the European continent, Germany remains the country with the most numerous symphonies founded in the 18th century: Mannheim (1720), Berlin (1735), Leipzig (1763, the famous Gewandhaus), Munich (1778), Bonn (1783), Bremen (1792). France didn't stay far behind Germany, if we think of the Orchestra of the Opera Academy (1669) and of the Orchestra of the Comic Opera (1780) in Paris, after which the founding of French famous symphonies of the 19th century "exploded": the Conservatory Orchestra (1828), Pasdeloup (1861), Colonne (1873), where George Enescu had his debut with The Romanian Poem, and Lamoureux (1881). And although it may seem curious, but Warsaw had a symphonic ensemble attached to the Grand Theatre (1833) before Liverpool (1840), Vienna (1842), New York (1842), Budapest (1853) and Prague (1881). When the conductor Eduard Wachmann initiated the putting together of an orchestra in 1866, and then founded the Romanian Philharmonic Society in Bucharest in 1868, our neighbors were far from such artistic feats: Athens (1893), Belgrade (1923), Kiew (1923), Sofia (1928), Moscow (1928). The Romanian Capital was already proud of its ensemble, when c in St. Petersburg, for example, the czarist regime has put together only in 1882 the Court Orchestra, and when the Romanian Atheneum was preparing to inaugurate the new palace of music in 1888, the famous Concertgebouw Orchestra was just about being born in Amsterdam! Today, at almost 140 years of existence (which will be celebrated in 2008), the "George Enescu" Philharmonic can be cosidered the "oldest" in the Balkanic Basin, and – with the exception of the Polish orchestra of the Wielkiegow Warszawie Theatre (which was not independent) – even in Eastern Europe.

If in the "Wachmann" period, the Bucharest Philharmonic was considered worldwide one of the first ensembles which promoted the creation of Richard Wagner – which, for instance in France, was very controversial – during the "Georgescu" period it asserted itself as the symphony which was most open to contemporary music (Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinski, Bela Bartok, Serghei Prokofiev, George Enescu). The fact that the most important Romanian composer was present on the posters of the Philharmonic, encouraged George Georgescu to invite Hermann Scherchen, in order to invigorate the local componistic school, during the year (season 1927/1928) when Enescu was away in New York, where he had been invited to replace Arturo Toscanini). After the memorable cycle of Beethoven symphonies, the German conductor "opened the ball" of Romanian music auditions: the poem "Among Foes" by Robert Cremer, the Chamber Symphony, by Mihail Andricu, The Orchestra Suite Nr. 2 by George Enescu, the Ouverture to Hecuba, by C.C. Nottara, Bagatelle for Bass and Orchestra, by Filip Lazar, Two Dances, by Ion Nonna Otescu, Acteon, by Alfred Alessandrescu, Moldavian Landscapes, by Mihail Jora. And, in order to continue the Philharmonic's Wagnerian tradition of the Wachmann period, Hermann Scherchenb's concert cycle was concluded with a Wagner Festival which took place on the Third Day of Christmas, on December 27, 1927)!

After the institution had performed100 concerts since its founding (1894), the Bucharest press demanded the nationalization of the Philharmonic Orchestra: on April 7, 1894,the composer and music critic Grigore Ventura, wrote in "Timpul": "Wouldn't it be a good idea, to have a stable orchestra in Bucharest, just like there is one in any German city?... I shall submit the idea to the Minister of Public Instruction and to the Mayor of the city." Another half a century had to go by, for the suggestion of Grigore Ventura to become reality...

The third moment of major importance in the "life" of the Philharmonic was its first tour abroad, to Greece and Turkey, in 1922. This signaled the assertion of Romanian interpretative art in Europe because, along with the conductors George Georgescu, Mircea Basarab and Mircea Cristescu, a series of virtuosi, such as Dinu Lipatti, Ion Voicu, Silvia Serbescu, Valentin Gheorghiu, Radu Aldulescu, Alexandru Demetriad, Mihai Constantinescu (1934-1967), have placed the Bucharest orchestra into the circuit of great world ensembles.

The competition between artistic values, in which the State Philharmonic – named "George Enescu" Philharmonic after the death of the maestro in 1955 – became engaged after 1958, happened in...Bucharest, with the founding of the "George Enescu" International Music Festival, our country's most prestigious musical event of this amplitude. In addition to having to bear the weight of an ample tri-annual event, our first orchestra has had to take on the most prestigious foreign music ensembles. Nevertheless, it has managed to "launch" numerous compostions of the post-Enescian generation as well as to make known George Enescu's masterpieces in the most authentic interpretations possible. It is no longer a secret that the Bucharest dialogue has provided Romanian conductors and soloists access to the greatest guest ensembles and has, at the same time, triggered regular invitations abroad for the "George Enescu" Philharmonic under the batons of Cristian Mandeal and Horia Andreescu, its two permanent conductors during the past decade. After it was enriched in 1951 by a very professional academic choir, the Philharmonic has often traveled "in a tandem", in order to bring to life representative vocal-symphonic scores.

And if we look with slight regret, especially upon the international "debut" period in the first half of the 20th century, we wonder why the Philharmonic has not joined the company of grand European earlier, although, beginning with 1920 it enjoyed the leadership of a virtuoso like George Enescu. The explanation is that it had to pay too dearly for the proverbial modesty of the maestro, which prevented him from conducting any Romanian orchestra abroad! His scores had to suffice, although the orchestra was also badly in need of his masterly baton. Let's not forget that at the World Exhibitions in Paris (1937) and New York (1939), Enescu preferred to present only the works of the Romanian composition school, without using the most important "instrument" (the Philharmonic), which would have been so necessary to demonstrate our interpretative art. Unfortunately, the unforgettable encounters with Sergiu Celibidache at the Romanian Atheneum in 1979 did not lead to a permanent engagement or cooperation with the Philharmonic either, a step which would have been of fundamental importance for the orchestra. In this way, another chance to gain international recognition was lost. It seems that the change for the better of the past decades, came along with the compact discs, which have sent the prime orchestra of the country to the top of the world of music hierarchy.

At its 140 years of existence, the "George Enescu" Philharmonic is proud of an artistic tradition which equals the traditions of Romania's modern history: we should not forget that the "spark" which initiated the founding of our first symphonic orchestra, was struck during the time of Prince Cuza who, through the Unification of the Romanian Principalities, has created the first Romanian modern state. The tumultuous history of the Bucharest Philharmonic is deeply connected with all the dramatic moments which have marked the existence of this nation placed at crossroads.