The Musikkollegium Winterthur is the oldest Orchestra in Switzerland and probably one of the oldest of its kind in general, since it was founded as a private association rather than in a courtly tradition. The history of the Musikkollegium Winterthur can be traced back to the 17th century. The oldest orchestra in Switzerland, it was founded in 1875 as the Stadtorchester Winterthur. The orchestra performs around 60 concerts a year, and in addition to orchestra concerts, performs in the pit at the Zürich Opera.
The first half of the 20th century was mainly characterised by its patron Werner Reinhart and the Orchestra's conductor Hermann Scherchen. Major composers, like Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, Othmar Schoeck or Anton Webern composed on behalf of the Musikkollegium. However, Reinhart also managed to start a major collection of music manuscripts, letters and writings. The archives of his «Rychenberg Foundation » and the Musikkollegium's archives rank among the major private music collections in Europe - not least thanks to autograph manuscripts by Mozart, Puccini, and considerable correspondence by Brahms as well as a number of scores of major composers of the 20th century.
Next to and after Hermann Scherchen, conductors like Wilhelm Furtwängler, Fritz Busch, Joseph Keilberth and Armin Jordan had long-term connections with the Musikkollegium Winterthur. Given the manifold tasks in its home town, the Orchestra remained almost exclusively active in the region, despite its international profile. With its principle conductors Franz Welser-Möst (1987-1990), János Fürst (1990-1994), Heinrich Schiff (1995-2001) and Jac van Steen (2002-2008), this ensemble has developed into one of the leading Swiss orchestras.
From the concert season 2009-2010 onwards, Douglas Boyd, born in Scotland in 1959, will be its principle conductor. He will be responsible for the artistic development of the Musikkollegium, as well as for the organisation and conducting of approximately 15 concerts per season. In addition, tours and CD recordings are planned.
Famous guest conductors included Vladimir Ashkenazy, Theodor Guschlbauer, Heinz Holliger and Mikhail Pletnev who regularly came to the Musikkollegium Winterthur as guest conductors, thus greatly contributing to its artistic versatility. The fact that many of the Orchestra's members are also intensively focusing on chamber music contributes greatly to the outstanding quality of this ensemble.
Given its size of 50 musicians, works of the classical period and early Romanticism as well as of the 20th century are at the focus of the Musikkollegium's repertoire. Musicians like Rudolf Buchbinder, Mikhail Pletnev, András Schiff and Pinchas Zukerman appreciate the fact that they can perform the music of these particular epochs with the Orchester Musikkollegium Winterthur in a dual function, i.e. as a soloist and a conductor.
There are approximately 70 concerts per season, ca. 40 of which are performed in Winterthur in the framework of the Orchestra's own concert series at the Stadthaus Winterthur, the stately building by the famous architect Gottfried Semper (built from 1865-1869) that has just been restored. The new concert structure launched during the 2006-2007 season focuses strictly on the target groups and has thus managed to even increase the Musikkollegium's position as an innovative concert organizer in the region. The promotion of youth projects, interdisciplinary cooperation with institutes and specialist colleges and the organisation of topical festivals set the course for the varied activities of this ensemble.
With Jac van Steen as conductor, the Musikkollegium Winterthur has realised a number of recordings of works of the 20th century under the CD Label MDG, which received considerable international attention.
More and more often, the ensemble also performs major concert series at home and abroad as guests (amongst others a tour of Germany with Heinz Holliger) and gives gala concerts for not-for-profit organisations and companies.