One of the most famous symphony orchestras of the world, founded by O. Nicolai (together with A. Schmidt and A.J. Becher) at the beginning of 1842, emerging from a union of musicians of the court opera orchestra (the members of the VPO are still recruited from the orchestra of the Vienna State Opera); the first philharmonic concert took place in the Großer Redoutensaal hall in Vienna on March 28, 1842. Subscription concerts have been performed since 1860 (in the Großer Musikvereinssaal concert hall since 1870). The VPO performed outside Vienna for the first time at the first Salzburg music festival in 1877 (Salzburg is still an important performance venue during the festival season). Long-term conductors include F.O. Dessoff (1860-1875), Hans Richter (1875-1882, 1883-1898), Gustav Mahler (1898-1901), Joseph Hellmesberger, Jr. (1901-1903), F. Weingartner (1908-1927), Wilhelm Furtwängler (1927-1930, “main conductor” 1938-1945 and 1947-1954) and Clemens Krauss (1930-1933). In the intervening years and since 1954 the VPO has been managed by guest conductors. – The VPO went on its first tour abroad (Paris) in 1900.
10-11 subscription concerts, the Nicolai-concert (since 1887) and the traditional New Year’s Concert (since 1940) are performed every year. The VPO ball, which has taken place annually at the Musikverein since 1924, is one of the main social events of the Viennese ball season. Outstanding personalities emerging from the VPO include A. Nikisch, H. Richter, Franz Schmidt and A. Rosé.
The repertory still focuses on classical symphony (J. Haydn, W.A. Mozart, L.v. Beethoven) and is complemented by Austrian symphonic music of the 19th century. Strict selection procedures, homogeneous training of musicians, tradition and the capacity to modulate the orchestra guarantee the worldwide reputation of the VPO, which uses a slightly elevated pitch in comparison to the standard pitch of a´ = 440 Hz.
The VPO has been an independent association with basic democratic structures (“democracy of kings”) and has accepted women musicians in the orchestra since 1997 (first female member A. Lelke, harp). It awards an honorary ring (Rudolf Serkin, Leonard Bernstein, Clemens Krauss, W. Schneiderhan, Herbert von Karajan, Karl Böhm et al.) for outstanding merit.