Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic

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Royal Liverpool Philharmonic
Also known as RLPO "The Phil"
Origin Liverpool, England, UK
Genres Classical
Occupations Symphony orchestra
Years active 1840-present
Associated acts Ensemble 10/10; RLP Choir
Chief Conductor
Vasily Petrenko
Conductor Laureate
Libor Peek
Conductor Emeritus
Charles Mackerras
Ian Tracey
Former members
Founder Subscription Membership

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra based in Liverpool, England, is Britain's oldest established orchestra[1] and one of the oldest in the world. It is owned and administered by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society (RLPS), a registered charity. It is the only orchestral society in the United Kingdom to own its own hall, the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. The Society and Orchestra were a key partner and delivery organisation for the successful European Capital of Culture bid for the year 2008.


The orchestra was founded as the Liverpool Philharmonic Society on January 10, 1840 by local citizens buying shares as "subscriptions". Effectively it was a private club.[2] The Society employed the musicians, whereas in other towns the players would be freelance or would form their own orchestral organisation or the local council would directly support the players as a municipal orchestra. The RLPS is one of the oldest concert-giving organisations in the world, and the second oldest in Britain after the Royal Philharmonic Society. Darren Henley and Vincent McKernan have postulated the first concerts of the precursor ensemble of the RLPO to have occurred in 1853, and have claimed for the RLPO the title of the oldest UK symphony orchestra.[1]

Concerts were held in a number of venues until the Philharmonic Hall was opened on its present site at Hope Street in 1849. That hall was destroyed by fire in 1933. Liverpool University's Professor of Architecture, Herbert Rowse, designed the Bauhaus and art deco-influenced replacement which was completed in 1939. The RLPO is the only UK orchestra to own its own permanent concert hall.

In 1957, Queen Elizabeth II granted the title "Royal" to the Society and the Orchestra when she agreed to become its Patron.

Apart from its financial support by its registered subscribers and national Department of Culture, and grants from the Arts Council of England, the RLPO also receives funds from the local authorities of Merseyside and elsewhere where it is the principal visiting orchestra, notably Chester, Preston and Lancashire County. The orchestra has had extensive overseas tours over the last twenty years and was the first non-Czech orchestra to play the first concert of the Prague Spring Festival, in 1989.

In 1989, the RLPS and Orchestra received an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University, and in 1991 the RLPS was the first organisation to be granted the Honorary Freedom of the City of Liverpool. A further honour of Meritorious Service was granted by the City of Liverpool in 1997. The RLPS also administers the Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir, Philharmonic Youth & Training Choirs, and the Community and Gospel Choir. The RLPS has supported contemporary music throughout its history and in 1994 appointed Graham Fitkin as the first Composer-In-Association to work with all the ensembles and with communities in Liverpool. Subsequent holders of this post have included David Horne and Kenneth Hesketh.

The society has had strong support from the local business community and this enabled it to completely redevelop the Philharmonic Hall within Rowse's structure. Extensions were made on neighbouring sites, notably a studio for chamber music, the Rodewald Suite. The society has encountered some fiscal troubles over the years, in common with other regional orchestras, including a 2003 report of a pending large deficit.[3] Around the start of Gerard Schwarz's tenure as principal conductor, the RLPO had a subsidy of £135,000.


Jakob Zeugheer directed the orchestra's concerts from 1843 to 1865. After Zeugheer's death, Alfred Mellon led the orchestra until his death at age 41 in March 1867. Subsequently, Sir Julius Benedict led the orchestra. For three years (1880-1883), Max Bruch was principal conductor. He composed his Kol Nidre for cello and orchestra while in Liverpool, dedicating it to the Jewish community of the city. The Society has commissioned many works for itself, including Walton's Symphony No 2. Since Bruch, other principal conductors of the orchestra have included Sir Henry Wood, Sir Malcolm Sargent, Sir John Pritchard, Sir Charles Groves, Libor Peek and Gerard Schwarz. Simon Rattle, born locally, trained with the RLPO. There were reports in 2004 of tension between Schwarz and the orchestra, and his contract was not renewed.[4]

In November 2004, Vasily Petrenko conducted his first concert with the RLPO. Petrenko was named the RLPO's principal conductor in July 2005.[5] Since his 2006 advent to the post, the orchestra's situation has improved and their subsidy is now reported at around £1.3 million.[6][7] In May 2007, the RLPO announced that Petrenko had extended his contract with the orchestra to 2012.[8] In September 2009, the orchestra announced a further extension of his contract to 2015, with a change of Petrenko's title to Chief Conductor.[9] Petrenko and the RLPO have recorded several compact discs for Naxos.[10] [11]

In addition to Petrenko and his predecessors, the orchestra continues to work with Carl Davis, with whom the orchestra performed in and ran the Liverpool Summer Pops until 2001, and Libor Peek, who holds the title of Conductor Laureate. Sir Charles Mackerras holds the title of Conductor Emeritus, a position previously held by Vernon Handley until his death in 2008. Handley was also the RLPO's principal guest conductor from 1989 to 1995.[12] [13]

Recordings and RLPO Live

As a recording orchestra, the RLPO has a varied and critically acclaimed discography, beginning with the famous Messiah and Dream of Gerontius 78 sets with Sargent, and notable first recordings of British works, e.g. Frederick Delius and Arthur Bliss with Groves and Handley. In particular, and more recently, Libor Peek led the RLPO in a number of award-winning recordings of Czech composers, including symphonies and orchestral music of Antonín Dvoák and Josef Suk. The RLPO's catalogue also includes a symphony cycle and other works by Beethoven with Sir Charles Mackerras, Britten, Mahler symphonies with Schwarz, Peek and Mackerras, Rachmaninov, Smetana, Richard Strauss, and a Vaughan Williams symphony cycle and other works with Vernon Handley. Several recordings feature the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir. A complete cycle of all six symphonies by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen, in a new edition, has been released by the RLPO and Douglas Bostock. Petrenko and the RLPO have recorded several compact discs for Naxos.[14] [15]

In 1998 the orchestra launched its own recording label, RLPO Live. The initiative came from the musicians themselves, and each recording is made with the in-house recording company, Merseyside Sound Recordings. In January 2003, RLPO Live and Classico Records joined forces, allowing for wider distribution of the RLPO's recordings. In 2007, the Celtic album Heart Strings by Moya Brennan was recorded live with the orchestra and was conducted by Julie Feeney.

Partnership with Classic FM

In November 2001, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Classic FM, a major classical music radio station in the UK, announced a new partnership which makes the RLPO Classic FM's "Orchestra in North West England". This relationship has been extended to 2009.

Principal conductors


  1. 1.0 1.1 Darren Henley and Vincent McKernan, The Original Liverpool Sound: The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Story. Liverpool University Press (ISBN 9781846312243), 2009.
  2. Article "Liverpool Musical Festivals" in Grove, George (1880). A Dictionary of Music and Musicians, volume ii, p. 154, London: Macmillan and Co..
  3. David Ward, Troubled orchestra faces £1m fund gap, The Guardian, 14 March 2003. URL accessed on 2007-07-25.
  4. Pauline Fairclough, RLPO/Schwarz, The Guardian, 26 April 2004. URL accessed on 2007-07-25.
  5. David Ward, Orchestra's Russian choice, The Guardian, 12 July 2005. URL accessed on 2007-07-25.
  6. Tim Ashley, RLPO/Petrenko, The Guardian, 7 February 2007. URL accessed on 2007-07-25.
  7. Andrew Clark, The young ones, Financial Times, 12 February 2007. URL accessed on 2007-07-25.
  8. Geoffrey Norris, Vasily Petrenko: Why Liverpool is galvanised by the 'Petrenko effect', 'Telegraph', 1 October 2007. URL accessed on 2007-10-03.
  9. Catherine Jones, Conductor Vasily Petrenko signs up to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra until 2015, Liverpool Echo, 2009-09-10. URL accessed on 2009-09-12.
  10. Anthony Holden, Tchaikovsky, Manfred Symphony, The Voyevoda, The Observer, 9 November 2008. URL accessed on 2009-09-12.
  11. Tim Ashley, Liszt Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2; Totentanz; Nebolsin/RLPO/Petrenko, The Guardian, 9 January 2009. URL accessed on 2009-09-12.
  12. Lewis Foreman, Vernon Handley: Conductor and champion of British music whose extensive discography includes 100 premieres, The Independent, 11 September 2008. URL accessed on 2008-10-02.
  13. Philip Key, Conductor supremo is honoured by Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Liverpool Daily Post, 13 January 2009. URL accessed on 2009-02-16.
  14. Anthony Holden, Tchaikovsky, Manfred Symphony, The Voyevoda, The Observer, 9 November 2008. URL accessed on 2009-09-12.
  15. Tim Ashley, Liszt Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2; Totentanz; Nebolsin/RLPO/Petrenko, The Guardian, 9 January 2009. URL accessed on 2009-09-12.

External links

  • Royal Liverpool Philharmonic official website
  • What's On At The Liverpool Philharmonic
  • Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Record label site
  • Royal Liverpool Philharmonic at All Music Guide
  • Royal Liverpool Philharmonic at the Bach Cantatas Website
This page was last modified 11.10.2009 10:01:58

This article uses material from the article Royal Liverpool Philharmonic from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia and it is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.