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Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) has held a prominent place in British music-making for more than seven decades. With a wide reach across Britain, in addition to its regular concerts in London's Cadogan Hall, including concerts in places where access to orchestral music is limited, the RPO can lay claim to the title of Britain's national orchestra. The RPO incorporates the pops-oriented Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, the avant-garde Sharp Edge group, and RPO Resound, a community and educational outreach program. The RPO's broad contemporary appeal, which has included appearances with popular music stars and on film, television, and video game soundtracks, would have been lauded by its founder and first conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham, who set up the RPO in 1946 and helped lead a vital revival in the U.K.'s orchestral life after World War II. The new orchestra prospered, beginning a long summer residency at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 1948 and touring the U.S. in 1950, becoming the first English orchestra to do so since 1912. Rudolf Kempe became principal conductor upon Beecham's death in 1961. The orchestra hit a rough patch in the early '60s under the leadership of Beecham's widow; Kempe departed (and then returned), and the orchestra temporarily lost the right to use the "royal" designation. That was restored by Queen Elizabeth II in 1966, and several strong conductors, Antal Doráti (1975-1978), André Previn (1985-1992), and Vladimir Ashkenazy (music director, 1987-1994), built the orchestra artistically. Later conductors have included Daniele Gatti, Yuri Temirkanov, Charles Dutoit, and Vasily Petrenko, who began his tenure as music director in 2021. The RPO is especially notable for the depth and variety of its recording program, which in the first few years of its existence had already topped 100 items; by the early 2020s decade, the orchestra had issued many hundreds of recordings, stretching from pop (disco enthusiasts will remember it as the orchestra featured on the Hooked on Classics recordings of the 1980s) to new avant-garde music. Among these was a 125-album contract with the Tring label. The orchestra's RPO Records, formed in 1986, is thought to have been the first recording label owned by a symphony orchestra; such an arrangement is now commonplace. The following year, the RPO launched the light music (or pops in the U.S.) companion group, the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. In 1993, the RPO inaugurated an educational and community outreach program titled RPO Resound. This program provides musical experiences outside of traditional concert settings, such as schools, prisons, and hospitals. Among the key projects for this program is the stroke rehabilitation project STROKESTRA. The RPO is the resident music ensemble of Cadogan Hall in Chelsea, becoming the first London orchestra to have a permanent home, giving its first concert there in 2004. In 2019, the RPO released Animal Requiem by rocker Pete Townshend's collaborator and marital partner, Rachel Fuller. That year, the RPO was named the associate orchestra of the Royal Albert Hall. Among the orchestra's 2022 albums are a recording of two Sibelius Symphonies and Air, featuring the music of Oliver Davis.
© James Manheim & Keith Finke /TiVo
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