past and present

Gürzenich-Orchester(c)Holger Talinski
Since season 2015/16, François-Xavier Roth is General Music Director of the City of Cologne

The Gürzenich Orchestra of Cologne is one of Germany’s leading orchestras and can look back on a great tradition. Since 1986 the ensemble’s home has been at the Kölner Philharmonie, where it presents about 50 concerts annually, simultaneously giving over 160 performances a year at the Cologne Opera. Since the season 2015/2016 François-Xavier Roth is new Gürzenich-Kapellmeister (Chief Conductor) and General Music Director of the City of Cologne.

Eröffnung Kölner Philharmonie(c)Klaus Barisch
Opening concert of the Kölner Philharmonie in 1986

The historical roots of the Orchestra reach as far back as the 15th century, to the founding of the Cologne Cathedral’s instrumental ensemble which, until the end of the 18th century, provided Cologne with concerts and theatre music in addition to church music. In 1827, under the patronage of well-to-do citizens dedicated to the arts, the orchestra was brought under the auspices of the Cologne Concert Society. Its members organised performances that, from 1857 on, were held in the concert hall called the “Gürzenich”, hence the orchestra’s name. The Gürzenich-Orchestra has always attracted leading conductors and composers of the time and has premiered important works such as the Brahms Double Concerto, Till Eulenspiegel and Don Quixote by Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler’s 5th Symphony, as well as Max Reger’s Hiller-Variations and Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Concerto for Orchestra. From 2015 until 2019 Philippe Manoury is invited by the Orchestra as “Composer for Cologne”, creating a trilogy of new spatialised orchestra pieces.

From 1945 until 1974 the orchestra was led by Günter Wand. In the last thirty years the orchestra was shaped by their chief conductors Marek Janowski, James Conlon and Markus Stenz. Under the baton of Markus Stenz, Gürzenich-Kapellmeister in the years 2003-2014, the orchestra recorded all of Gustav Mahler's symphonies. Their recording of Arnold Schönberg’s Gurre-Lieder was awarded the the Gramophone Award 2016. Playing under Dmitrij Kitajenko, who was appointed their honorary conductor in 2009 and developed the orchestra’s lively interest in the Russian repertoire, all the symphonies of Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov were recorded.

The orchestra gives regular guest performances on international concert podiums, including those in Vienna, Athens, Thessaloniki, at the Edinburgh International Festival, in London at the BBC Proms as well as at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the last Asia-Tour in 2014 led the orchestra to Seoul, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Bejing.

"More music for everyone!"

Gürzenich Köln(c)Stadtarchiv Köln
Concert at the Gürzenich 1924

Since September 2015, the new chief conductor is François-Xavier Roth. With the tagline "More music for everyone!" he has expanded the offerings of school concerts, and chamber ensembles are visiting elderly residence facilities and daycare centres. The orchestra can increasingly be experienced outside of the Philharmonie, for instance at the "City Life" project together with artists from Cologne's electronic label Kompakt, at the Museum Ludwig as part of the "Fernand Léger: Malerei im Raum" exhibition, and jointly with the youth symphony orchestra of the Rheinische Musikschule and hearing-impaired pupils at the "Planets" project. Another new offering is the streaming of GO Plus: selected concerts are recorded in audio and video and offered for free on the orchestra's homepage.