With its residencies at Musikverein Wien, the Festspielhaus St. Pölten and in Grafenegg, the Tonkunstler Orchestra is one of Austria’s biggest and most important musical ambassadors. The main focus of the orchestra’s artistic work is the traditional orchestral repertoire, ranging from the classical to the Romantic period through to the 20th century. At the same time, the Tonkunstler feel privileged to propagate contemporary music...

With its residencies at the Musikverein Wien, Festspielhaus St. Pölten and in Grafenegg, the Tonkunstler Orchestra is one of Austria’s biggest and most important musical ambassadors. The focus of the orchestra’s artistic work is the traditional orchestral repertoire, ranging from the Classical to the Romantic periods through to the 20th century. Yutaka Sado, one of the most important Japanese conductors of our time, has been the orchestra’s Music Director since the 2015-16 season. To ensure the continuation of this successful artistic partnership, in spring 2019 his contract was extended until the end of the 24-25 concert season.

The Tonkunstler’s unique approach to programming is appreciated by musicians, audiences and press alike. The inclusion of genres such as jazz and world music as part of the «Plugged-In» series, which has entered its eleventh year, keeps the orchestra in touch with the pulse of modern life. Performances of works by contemporary composers make the Tonkunstler a key player on the current music scene. Each year, a composer in residence collaborates with the orchestra for the Grafenegg Festival. So far, these have included Brett Dean, HK Gruber, Krzysztof Penderecki, Jörg Widmann, Ryan Wigglesworth and Peter Ruzicka. Composers including Arvo Pärt, Kurt Schwertsik, Friedrich Cerha and Bernd Richard Deutsch have written commissioned works for the orchestra. 

The Tonkunstler are the only Austrian symphony orchestra to boast three residencies. Their traditional Sunday Afternoon concerts at the Wiener Musikverein go back 70 years and remain their most successful concert cycle to date. The Festspielhaus St. Pölten was officially opened by the Tonkunstler Orchestra on 1 March 1997. Since then, as resident orchestra, its opera, dance and educational projects, as well as an extensive range of concerts, have formed an integral part of the overall cultural repertoire in the Lower Austrian state capital.

In Grafenegg, the Tonkunstler have two acoustically outstanding venues at their disposal in their capacity as festival orchestra: the Auditorium and Wolkenturm. The latter was officially opened by the orchestra. Each year, the Midsummer Night’s Gala – broadcast on radio and TV in Austria as well as in several other European countries – opens the summer season in Grafenegg.

The political and social events and upheavals of the 20th century have left their mark on the orchestra’s history. The first concert by the Wiener Tonkünstler-Orchester took place in the Wiener Musikverein in October 1907, with 83 musicians performing. The impressive trio of conductors that night were Oskar Nedbal, a student of Dvořák, Bernhard Stavenhagen, a student of Franz Liszt, and Hans Pfitzner. The Tonkunstler gave the first performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s «Gurre-Lieder» under the direction of Franz Schreker in 1913. Wilhelm Furtwängler was Principal Conductor of the orchestra from 1919 to 1923. Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, Felix Weingartner, Hans Knappertsbusch and Hermann Abendroth conducted the Tonkunstler in the years that followed.

The Tonkunstler have been the state symphony orchestra of Lower Austria since 1945. Year after year they have fulfilled the cultural, artistic and educational mandate this entails through their extensive range of concerts at various locations across the region, including the New Year’s concert series, through music education projects and their commitment to contemporary music in Lower Austria. In 2003, the Tonkunstler were the first Austrian orchestra to establish a department for music education. The «Tonspiele» («Sound Games») are one of the most extensive music education programmes in Austria. With its many activities for adults, including introductions to each symphonic concert programme, rehearsal visits, presented concert formats and the participative choir project «Seid umschlungen, Millionen»,  the orchestra’s educational work is richly varied.

The Tonkunstler Orchestra as we know it today developed from the Landessymphonieorchester Niederösterreich (State Symphony Orchestra of Lower Austria) in the mid-20th century. Its former Music Directors include such important figures of the music world as Walter Weller, Heinz Wallberg, Miltiades Caridis, Fabio Luisi. Kristjan Järvi and Andrés Orozco-Estrada. The orchestra’s guest conductors are another important source of artistic stimulus. In recent years, the Tonkunstler have welcomed many great conductors to their concerts, including Kent Nagano, Julia Jones, Michail Jurowski, Tomáš Netopil, Andrej Boreyko, Jakob Hruša, Gilbert Varga, Simone Young, Michal Nesterowicz, Ivor Bolton and Robert Trevino. Globally recognised orchestra directors including Hugh Wolff, Krzysztof Urbański, Michael Schønwandt, Jun Märkl, Dmitrij Kitajenko and John Storgårds have repeatedly worked with the Tonkunstler, some of them over many years.

Among the star soloists who have collaborated with the orchestra are Renée Fleming, Joyce DiDonato, Elisabeth Kulman, Lisa Batiashvili, Sol Gabetta, Alban Gerhardt, Cameron Carpenter and Michael Schade. The pianists Rudolf Buchbinder, Fazıl Say, Lars Vogt, Kit Armstrong and Lang Lang, the violin virtuosos Alina Pogostkina, Christian Tetzlaff, Augustin Hadelich, Daishin Kashimoto, Arabella Steinbacher and Julia Fischer as well the oboist Albrecht Mayer and the clarinettist Sabine Meyer have also performed with the Tonkunstler.

Recent tours have taken the Tonkunstler to Germany, Britain, Spain, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, South Korea and Taiwan, the Baltic states and, repeatedly, to Japan. Yutaka Sado led the most recent British tour in autumn 2018, with a six-part itinerary including London, Birmingham, Nottingham and Edinburgh. After the first major Japan tour with Yutaka Sado in early 2016, the orchestra and its Music Director returned there for three weeks in May 2018, giving no fewer than 14 concerts in the country’s most prestigious concert halls. In early 2019 the Tonkunstler made a four-part tour of Germany, performing in venues including the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg.

A wide range of CD recordings reflects the orchestra’s versatile artistic profile. Founded in 2016, the Tonkunstler’s own label releases up to four CDs per year as in-house studio productions and live recordings, mostly from the Wiener Musikverein, as well as performances with guest conductors. The Tonkunstler’s complete cycle of the Brahms symphonies, recorded with former Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada on the German label OehmsClassics in March 2015, was a résumé of their many years of collaboration. They had previously published recordings of Felix Mendelssohn’s five symphonies as well as Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony and the «Symphonie Fantastique» by Hector Berlioz, also conducted by Andrés Orozco-Estrada. With Kristjan Järvi, the Tonkunstler played Leonard Bernstein’s «Mass», Joseph Haydn’s Paris Symphonies and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in Gustav Mahler’s arrangement.

Also available are Mendelssohn’s «A Midsummer Night’s Dream», Schumann’s «Manfred», Franz Schmidt’s «The Book with Seven Seals», «Desert Music» by Steve Reich and «Zeitstimmung»/«Rough Music» by HK Gruber. 2012 saw the release of the CD «ZEIT:PUNKTE» with works commissioned from Austrian composers. 

The orchestra is a regular radio fixture with the programme «Tonkünstler» broadcast on the fourth Friday evening of every month on ORF Radio Niederösterreich. It offers a preview of the Tonkunstler’s upcoming musical highlights and information on their current projects. The book «Die Tonkünstler. Orchester-Geschichten aus Wien und Niederösterreich» («The Tonkunstler: Orchestral Stories from Vienna and Lower Austria») was published in 2007 to mark the Wiener Tonkünstler-Orchester’s 100th anniversary. Contributions from Otto Biba, Ernst Kobau, Philipp Stein, Markus Hennerfeind, Wilhelm Sinkovicz, Walter Weidringer and editor Rainer Lepuschitz shed light on aspects of Austrian orchestral history that had previously been undocumented or little known. 

Concert season 19-20 © Tonkunstler Orchestra


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