In 1945, when the American military government started recruiting musicians to form the radio orchestra of the newly-founded broadcasting station "Radio Stuttgart", nobody could have guessed how swiftly this orchestra would develop and how dramatic its rise to artistic prominence would be in the course of the next few decades. Today the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra (SWR Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart) is one of the state’s most important musical ambassadors, giving about 80 concerts a year in Stuttgart, in the area covered by SWR broadcasts, and in musical centres in Germany and abroad. The orchestra is a frequent guest - often within the context of international music festivals - for example, in London, Paris, Ravenna, Strasbourg, Vienna and Zürich, as well as at the "Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele". Since the 1950’s, the RSO has regularly played at the "Schwetzingen Festival", where every year it gives opera performances - including numerous world premières and rediscovered rare operas - as well as orchestra master classes in Schwetzingen Castle and gala concerts in Speyer Cathedral.
In addition to these frequent concerts, the orchestra also engages in numerous studio productions for the broadcasting station’s radio and television programme and for the recording industry (several of these recordings have received prizes). The RSO documents the results of its work, past and present, on the SWR's own CD label SWRmusic (former faszinationmusik), released in conjunction with hänsslerClassic.
Since its formation the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra has concentrated on two thematic focal points. On the one hand, with its exemplary interpretations it fosters the great classic and romantic repertoire of the symphonic tradition; on the other, the RSO is also a leading promoter of contemporary music. In its early years, the newly-founded broadcasting station started up special series of concerts devoted to the promotion of contemporary music. These later led to the "Tage der zeitgenössischen Musik" ("Days of Contemporary Music"), and to the series "Musik unserer Zeit" ("Music of our Times") and "Tage für Neue Musik Stuttgart" ("Stuttgart New Music Days"). Many important composers, such as Igor Stravinsky, Paul Hindemith, Pierre Boulez, Hans-Werner Henze, Krzysztof Penderecki, Luciano Berio, Mauricio Kagel, Johannes Kalitzke and Matthias Pintscher have conducted performances of their own works at concerts given by the Stuttgart RSO. Today, the festival "eclat" and the concept behind the performances of "attacca Geistesgegenwart.Musik", provide a forum for avantgarde music, including the first performances of numerous works commissioned by the SWR. Here young composers find a platform where they can realise their musical experiments and concepts of sound.
The first important conductors to work with the RSO regularly were Hans Müller-Kray and Carl Schuricht. From the orchestra’s early years on, a large number of internationally renowned guest conductors have given concerts with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, such as Ernest Ansermet, Sir John Barbirolli, Karl Böhm, Ferenc Fricsay, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Erich Kleiber and Hans Knappertsbusch and Leopold Stokowski; later guest conductors have included Sir Georg Solti, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Herbert Blomstedt, Erich Leinsdorf, Ferdinand Leitner, Gary Bertini and Kurt Sanderling. First-class soloists from all generations have given concerts with the Stuttgart RSO, among them Alfred Brendel, Maria Callas, Wolfgang Windgassen, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Arthur Grumiaux, Mstislav Rostropovich, Gidon Kremer, Maurizio Pollini, Anne-Sophie Mutter and Tabea Zimmermann - to name but a few.
The year 1971 marked an important caesura in the history of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, for in this year Sergiu Celibidache, who had previously been a frequent guest conductor for the orchestra, was appointed Principal Conductor and with his intensive and inspiring rehearsal work developed a new, pioneering ideal of sound which shaped performance style for many years. But he did not only present the results of his fruitful work with the orchestra in Stuttgart; under Sergiu Celibidache the RSO made its first appearances on the concert platforms of great international musical centres. The "Celibidache Edition", recently released by Deutsche Grammophon, contains a selection of fine recordings of concerts with works by J. Brahms, Bruckner, Debussy, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Ravel, O. Respighi, Strauss and I. Stravinsky. The latest issue in this series is "Der Taschengarten" ("Pocket Garden"), the only composition by Sergiu Celibidache which he authorised and recorded during his lifetime.
Sir Neville Marriner, who took over as Principal Conductor in 1983, widened the orchestra’s radius by undertaking international tours to the Far East and the USA with them. He also stepped up the number of gramophone records produced, resulting in over 80 recordings with works ranging from L.v. Beethoven to Leonard Bernstein. He was succeeded in 1989 by Gianluigi Gelmetti, who concentrated more on the Italian and French musical repertoire, especially on the works of Gioacchino Rossini and Maurice Ravel. Under his leadership the Stuttgart RSO was invited to be the first orchestra from outside Italy to perform at the "Rossini Festival" in Pesaro. In addition, Gelmetti and the RSO recorded the complete orchestral works of Maurice Ravel for EMI. With Georges Prêtre, who became the Artistic Director in 1996 and is still Laureate Conductor of the RSO, another charismatic personality presided over the orchestra. Among a series of concerts given in the course of a tour to celebrate the orchestra’s fiftieth anniversary, Prêtre and the RSO performed in the Musikvereinssaal in Vienna. The CD of Richard Strauss’s opera Capriccio with Dame Felicity Lott in the leading role, released on the Forlane label, is one of the most impressive recordings documenting Prêtre’s collaboration with the RSO.
Today the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra's Permanent Guest Conductors are Andrey Boreyko and Péter Eötvös. Each of them has, by his regular work with the orchestra and his own special focal points in the repertoire, help to shape the image of the orchestra. Andrey Boreyko, the orchestra´s Principal Guest Conductor, focuses on 20th century music of Eastern Europe - especially on the works of Dmitri Shostakovich (centenary in 2006) - and on a wide range of styles in contemporary music in general. In June 2004 Andrey Boreyko recorded Arvo Pärt´s composition Lamentate for piano and orchestra with the Stuttgart RSO as a world premiere recording. Péter Eötvös enriches the RSO’s concert programmes with his interpretations of modern music and by his expert skills at communicating music, verbally as well. His recording of Béla Bartók´s opera Duke Bluebirds Castle with the Stuttgart RSO has been nominated for the "GRAMMY 2004".
The RSO has also worked together with Heinz Holliger for many years; in addition to Holliger’s own compositions, the focus has regularly been on the works of composers dear to Holliger’s heart, such as Olivier Messiaen and Charles Koechlin. His intensive work on Koechlin’s oeuvre culminated in 2002 in a film portrait of Koechlin’s life, for which Holliger recorded exemplary ex-tracts from the composer’s music. Two CDs with orchestral works by Koechlin were released by SWRmusic, this series will be continued.
Since 1998, Sir Roger Norrington has been the Principal Conductor of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. His work in Stuttgart, to which he regularly adds a further dimension by his verbal communication of music, concentrates principally on two major thematic focal points; on the one hand, he attaches great importance to the composers of the period from Viennese Classicism (Ludwig van L.v. Beethoven’s music especially) through to Romanticism; on the other hand, he has added to the repertoire and concert series of the Stuttgart RSO by including the major works from the British symphonic tradition (for example Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, William Walton and Tippett). Roger Norrington’s recording of E. Elgar’s First Symphony with the RSO won the coveted "ECHO Klassik" Prize 2001 for the best symphonic recording of the year.
Roger Norrington has managed to give the orchestra a quite unmistakable profile by combining historically authentic performing practice with the means available to a modern symphony orchestra - the result of this synthesis has been hailed by critics as the "Stuttgart Sound". It adjusts the configuration of the orchestra, the instrumentation, articulation, phrasing and style to the composer’s own concept of sound. This careful involvement with the core symphonic repertoire has allowed the RSO to develop an extreme degree of flexibility and stylistic virtuosity. The enthusiasm with which the "Stuttgart Sound" is received by audiences can be experienced not only at the regular concerts given by the RSO in the Liederhalle in Stuttgart but also at the numerous guest appearances it makes in the area covered by SWR broadcasts as well as on concert tours throughout Germany and abroad.
In summer 2002, Sir Roger Norrington and the RSO performed the cycle of all nine symphonies by L.v. Beethoven at the "European Music Festival Stuttgart" in the context of concerts with accompanying lectures and as part of a master class for conductors. This project was reflected not only directly in the radio programme of the SWR2 station, but also in the CD-release of live recordings of these concerts by faszinationmusik. These recordings are nominated for the famous GRAMMY 2004. The recording of the Ninth Symphony has allready won the Cannes Classical Award 2004 and the Japanese Record Geijutsu Award 2003.
In the 2002-2003 season Sir Roger Norrington concentrated exclusively on one composer in his concerts: Hector Berlioz, the bicentenary of whose birth was celebrated in 2003. The culmination of this "Berlioz Festival" has been a concert tour in which Berlioz’s opera "Benvenuto Cellini" was given concert performances at renowned European music festivals, including the "BBC Proms" in London, the "Festival KlangBogen" in Vienna, the "Flanders Festival" in Brussels, the "Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele" and a concert at the "Konzerthaus" in Berlin.
Roger Norrington's 2003-2004 season with the Stuttgart RSO focuses on orchestral works by Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn (following the history of music after L.v. Beethoven and Berlioz), culminating in performances of the symphonies cycles of both of these composers at the "European Music Festival Stuttgart" in summer 2004.
In November 2004 the Stuttgart RSO has undertaken its sixths tour to Japan, presenting works by Gustav Mahler, R. Vaughan Williams and L.v. Beethoven. The country’s leading music critics, journalists and musicologists selected the RSO’s concerts in Tokyo (3 concerts), Nagoya, Yokohama, Osaka, Miyazaki and Tsukuba as the "best musical event of the year 2004" - with approximately 9,600 classical music events to choose from.
The four symphonies of J. Brahms are Roger Norrington´s main subject in his 2004-2005 season, combined with works of English composers like Edward Elgar, R. Vaughan Williams and Michael Tippett (centenary in 2005). Roger Norrington also gives a preview on G. Mahler, whose works will be presented by his Stuttgart RSO the following season.
The Stuttgart RSO will continue to meet the demands of international concert platforms, to give guest concerts in neighbouring countries and to undertake overseas tours. This international competition is an essential element that helps ensure that the high musical standards of the concerts given in the area covered by SWR broadcasts and in the South West German Broadcasting Station’s radio programme are maintained.