Munich Philharmonic

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Munich Philharmonic
Concert hallGasteig
Principal conductorLahav Shani (designate, effective 2026)

The Munich Philharmonic (German: Münchner Philharmoniker) is a German symphony orchestra located in the city of Munich. It is one of Munich's four principal orchestras, along with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Munich Radio Orchestra and the Bavarian State Orchestra. Since 1985, the orchestra has been housed in the Gasteig culture centre.



The orchestra was founded in Munich in 1893 by Franz Kaim, son of a piano manufacturer, as the Kaim Orchestra. In 1895, it took up residence in the city's Tonhalle (concert hall). It soon attracted distinguished conductors: Gustav Mahler first directed the group in 1897 and premiered his Symphony No. 4 and Symphony No. 8 with the orchestra, while Bruno Walter directed the orchestra for the posthumous premiere of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. Felix Weingartner was music director from 1898 to 1905, and the young Wilhelm Furtwängler made his auspicious conducting debut there in 1906. Meanwhile, Anton Bruckner pupil Ferdinand Löwe established an enduring tradition of Bruckner performance which continues to this day.

The World Wars[edit]

Up until this time the orchestra, which by 1910 was known as the Munich Konzertverein Orchestra, was privately funded, but during World War I finances became tight and players were called for military service, forcing the orchestra to cease operation. After the war, the orchestra was taken over by the City of Munich and restarted under the leadership of composer Hans Pfitzner, soon replaced by Bruckner pioneer Siegmund von Hausegger. In 1928, the orchestra acquired its current name.

After the rise of the Nazi party in 1933, the orchestra stamped its scores with swastikas and the words "The Orchestra of the Fascist Movement". (The swastikas weren’t removed until the early 1990s.)[1] In 1938, the pro-Nazi conductor Oswald Kabasta became chief conductor, raising its musical standards[further explanation needed] even as World War II began.

During the war, the Tonhalle was destroyed and the orchestra, without a permanent base, was suspended for a period. After the war, fortunes recovered under the music directors Hans Rosbaud and Rudolf Kempe. In 1979, Sergiu Celibidache took over, driving an increase in the orchestra's standards and public profile.[citation needed][further explanation needed].

Munich vs. Conant[edit]

In a well-publicised case, Celibidache tried to remove principal trombonist Abbie Conant from her position because of her gender, and paid her less than her male colleagues without her knowledge.[2] The City of Munich, the Philharmonic's owner, complained

The plaintiff does not possess the necessary physical strength to be a leader of the trombone section; she is not in the position to clearly lead the trombone group. Apart from that, she lacks the required empathy to translate the artistic wishes of the General Music Director[3]

Conant successfully sued the City of Munich, after a lengthy legal procedure, in 1983. Only thereafter was she paid the same male colleagues along with being reinstated as full first soloist status. The court found that

“The suit is permissible because the change in work assignments, due to the lack of a substantiated argument, is unjustified.”

“The accused has not justified their demotion with facts, but rather generalized value judgments.”

“Above and beyond that, they do not say when (date) the alleged mistakes happened.  They also do not mention when the plaintiff was given a warning.”  

“It is therefore not possible for the court to determine what the plaintiff did wrong, or determinable whether she took the alleged warnings to heart, or in other words, whether the mistakes were made again after the warning.”[4]

Reportedly, Conant's audition was the last to be held using blind audition. This level of discrimination was not consistent across all of Germany's orchestras at this time, however. Writing in Der Spiegel in 1991, Violinist Carla Spannbauer said

I advise Abbie Conant to come to North Rhine-Westphalia: the Bonn orchestra is on the same level as the Munich Philharmonic (also in terms of tariffs), and yet my colleagues have no need of xenophobia or misogyny. As far as generosity and tolerance towards foreigners and women are concerned, the German cities and their philharmonic orchestras Munich and Berlin could still learn a lot from Bonn.[5]

Recent history[edit]

After Celibidache's sudden death in 1996, James Levine was chief conductor of the orchestra from 1999 to 2004. Christian Thielemann became the orchestra's music director in September 2004, joined by Wouter Hoekstra as Intendant. However, in 2007, Hoekstra was dismissed from his post after reported disputes with Thielemann.[6] In 2009, the orchestra announced the scheduled conclusion of Thielemann's tenure in 2011. Thielemann's demand to have a say over the choice of guest conductors was not approved.

In March 2010, Lorin Maazel was named the orchestra's next chief conductor, effective with the 2012–2013 season.[7] Early in 2014, Maazel cancelled concert engagements as a result of ill health. Subsequently, in June 2014, he announced his resignation as music director of the Munich Philharmonic, with immediate effect.[8]

In January 2013, the orchestra announced the appointment of Valery Gergiev as its next principal conductor as of 2015, with an initial contract through 2020.[9] Gergiev was dismissed in 2022 after Gergiev declined to repudiate Putin's 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.[10]

In March 2022, Lahav Shani first guest-conducted the orchestra, in a benefit concert for Ukraine.[11] Shani returned in September 2022 for an additional guest-conducting appearance.[12] In February 2023, the orchestra and the Munich City Council announced the appointment of Shani as its next chief conductor, with an initial contract of 5 years.[13]

Over the course of its history, the Munich Philharmonic has performed premieres of Günter Bialas, Anton Bruckner, Harald Genzmer, Luigi Nono, Gustav Mahler and others.

Chief conductors[edit]


  1. ^ William Osborne (1994). "You Sound Like A Ladies Orchestra". Retrieved 5 August 2007.
  2. ^ "Aus dem Blech gefallen". Der Spiegel. 28 October 1991. Retrieved 24 May 2010.
  3. ^ Brief, Conant vs. LH München, AGM Aktz: 2 Ca 7022/82, February 3, 1983.
  4. ^ Final judgement, Conant vs. LH München Aktz. Ca 2 7022/82, April 12, 1984.
  5. ^ "Verheerende Folgen". Der Spiegel (in German). 17 November 1991. ISSN 2195-1349. Retrieved 24 August 2023.
  6. ^ Vivien Schweitzer (17 April 2007). "Munich Philharmonic Planning to Replace General Manager Following Feud With Christian Thielemann". Playbill Arts. Retrieved 2 September 2007.
  7. ^ "Lorin Maazel wird Chefdirigent der Münchner Philharmoniker" (Press release). Munich Philharmonic. 27 March 2010. Archived from the original on 28 May 2010. Retrieved 27 March 2010.
  8. ^ Lucas Wiegelmann (12 June 2014). "Star-Dirigent Lorin Maazel tritt zurück". Die Welt. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  9. ^ "Valery Gergiev becomes new principal conductor of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra" (Press release). Munich Philharmonic. 23 January 2013. Archived from the original on 17 February 2013. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
  10. ^ "Valery Gergiev, a Putin Ally, Fired as Chief Conductor in Munich". New York Times (Press release). 1 March 2022. Retrieved 14 March 2022.
  11. ^ "Benefizkonzert für die Ukraine: Anne-Sophie Mutter spielte mit Münchner Orchestern". BR Klassik. 9 March 2022. Retrieved 2 February 2023.
  12. ^ Bernhard Neuhoff (22 September 2022). "Kritik – Münchner Philharmoniker: Soeng-Jin Cho und Lahav Shani - Feingeist trifft Energiebündel". BR Klassik. Retrieved 2 February 2023.
  13. ^ "Lahav Shani ab 2026 Chefdirigent der Münchner Philharmoniker" (PDF) (Press release). Munich Philharmonic. 1 February 2023. Retrieved 2 February 2023.

External links[edit]