Those who attended the concert of the Stern´scher Gesangsverein on May 5, 1882 were witness to a historic debut. This was the founding concert of the Berlin Philharmonic, which was still known at the time as the Bilse´sche Kapelle. Today the Berliners are not only one of the world’s finest orchestras, but also a mirror of their times, setting standards in both sound and aesthetics.
Charismatic personalities of the likes of Hans von Bülow, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Herbert von Karajan, and Claudio Abbado have shaped the orchestra’s history over the years with outstanding recordings. One of the most poignant events in the ensemble’s history was the performance of the Mathis der Maler symphony conducted by the composer. Hindemith had written the symphony for the Berlin Philharmonic at the request of Wilhelm Furtwängler. Soon afterward, however, it was prohibited by the Nazis, which not only forced the composer into exile, but led to a full-fledged scandal. Furtwängler, who actively supported Hindemith, attacked the Nazis in an article for the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung.
When the Nazis did not relent as hoped, he resigned from his posts. After the war, Hindemith himself conducted his Mathis symphony in 1955 with the Berlin Philharmonic, which offered belated satisfaction. The Philharmonic’s artistic future is currently in the hands of Russian conductor Kirill Petrenko, who was appointed as successor to Sir Simon Rattle.

© Helmut Jasbar, ORF - Radio Österreich 1


  • May 1, 1882 – The Bilse´sche Kapelle is founded. In the same month, the first concert takes place under Ernst Rudorff

  • 1913 – Alfred Hertz conducts the Berlin Philharmonic’s first recording: excerpts from Richard Wagner’s Parsifal on eight 78 RPM records

  • 1922 – Wilhelm Furtwängler is named principal conductor

  • 1924 – First radio broadcast of a concert with the Berlin Philharmonic under Heinz Unger

  • 1952 – After his resignation in 1934, Furtwängler is once again principal conductor “for life”

  • 1954 – Herbert von Karajan is named principal conductor

  • 1989 – Claudio Abbado is named principal conductor. On November 12, three days after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Berlin Philharmonic performs a concert to commemorate the event specially for visitors from the GDR

  • 2002 – The first concert with new principal conductor Simon Rattle takes place

  • 2015 – Kirill Petrenko is appointed new principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic

Did you know?

  • “The hours I spent at the Berliner Philharmonie are and remain for me the center of the world.” (Richard von Weizsäcker)

  • In 1973 Sylvia Caduff is appointed to fill in. The press is so astonished that, without doing any research, they write: “A woman conducts the Berlin Philharmonic for the first time!”

  • Due to international species conservation regulations, many valuable instrument bows were destroyed by customs officials starting in 1975. In protest, the Berlin Philharmonic performed a concert with carbon bows in the United States.

  • Bored during a rehearsal, musicians in the back rows started playing chess. Conductor Karl Böhm noticed and muttered several times to himself: “They’re playing chess. When I’m here, the famous Böhm!”

  • German humorist Loriot succeeded in integrating audience noises into the music. On the Berlin Philharmonic’s 100th birthday, Loriot appeared as conductor and gave cues to the orchestra – and to coughing audience members.

  • And Karl Böhm once again: the triangle player lost count during a rehearsal. Böhm: “What do you mean lost count? You don’t need to count. When we’re playing Strauss and the subject is money, play the triangle!”

  • Conductor Hans Knappertsbusch could also deliver a few choice words, berating a timpanist with: “Your instrument sounds like a goat shitting on the drum skin.”