With its 400-year history, the Staatsorchester Stuttgart (Stuttgart State Orchestra) is one of Germany's oldest and most established musical institutions. First documented in 1589 as Württemberg's court orchestra, its long history is distinguished not least by the famous musicians, who were either members or conductors of the orchestra, such as Leonhard Lechner, the Froberger family, Niccolò Jommelli, Johann Rudolf Zumsteeg, Konradin Kreutzer, Johann Nepomuk Hummel und Carl Maria von Weber. When Hector Berlioz performed with them, the famous composer praised the orchestra under Peter von Lindpaintner as one of Europe's finest. At the end of the 1880's, Stuttgart's Opera House was among the very first in Germany to stage its own production of Der Ring des Nibelungen, conducted by the music director of the time, Herman Zumpe, who had assisted Richard Wagner during the preparations for the first Bayreuth Festival.
The tradition of world premieres as well as German premieres was continued with the German premiere of Falstaff and the world premiere of Ariadne auf Naxos, conducted by Richard Strauss himself in 1912, the world premieres of two one-act operas by Paul Hindemith in 1921 and countless others until the present day, with operas by Carl Orff, Krzysztof Penderecki, Philip Glass, Hans Zender, Rolf Riehm and Adriana Hölszky. In the 20th century it was the conductors Max von Schillings and Ferdinand Leitner, who alongside Fritz Busch, Carl Leonhardt, Franz Konwitschny, Hans Swarowsky and Herbert Albert left the most lasting mark on the orchestra. In recent years renowned conductors such as Carlos Kleiber, Vaclav Neumann, Silvio Varviso, Janos Kulka, Dennis Russell Davies, Garcia Navarro und Gabriele Ferro have all worked in Stuttgart as music directors or orchestra leaders. Among others connected with the orchestra were guests such as Sir Georg Solti, Carlo Maria Giulini and Riccardo Chailly.
Under Lothar Zagrosek as music director, the reputation of the orchestra as particularly versatile was strengthened further between 1997 and 2006.
Significant performances of contemporary works such as Luigi Nono's Intolleranza and Helmut Lachenmann's Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern have contributed to the national and international reputation just as much as the highly-regarded performances of Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, recorded and broadcasted on television as well as produced on DVD. In 2002, the orchestra was awarded the title of "Orchestra of the year" by the Opernwelt magazine.
Successor to Lothar Zagrosek as music director is, with the beginning of the 2007-2008 season, Manfred Honeck. The Austrian conductor will become First Guest Conductor with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra from 2008-2009 onwards as well as Music Director with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Manfred Honeck's Stuttgart debut took place successfully already in May 2007 with Così fan tutte, followed by Hector Berlioz' Les Troyens in October 2007. In April 2008 he conducted the premiere of Mozart's Idomeneo. In addition to the operas, Manfred Honeck will conduct four out of the seven symphony concerts that the Staatsorchester Stuttgart hold in the local concert hall Liederhalle each season. He will thereby put special focus on the symphonies of Anton Bruckner and Gustav Mahler as well as hitherto "unjustly" forgotten composers like Walter Braunfels. Another of Manfred Honeck's special concerns will be to support recent and contemporary music. In addition to the symphony concerts, members of the orchestra stage seven chamber concerts at the same venue and often in cooperation with ensemble singers. The programme for the chamber concerts' is always eclectic and often includes rarely performed music.