The Transylvania State Philharmonic Orchestra of Cluj-Napoca has grown to be a valuable institution of music, having a sustained presence in the Romanian and European cultural space.
As an artistic institution dedicated exclusively to concert activities, The Cluj-Napoca Philharmonic was founded through an official decree of Romania’s Council of Ministers, in the autumn of 1955, carrying the name Cluj State Philharmonic Orchestra. At that time, the symphonic orchestra had 75 musicians and the ensemble of traditional music had 20 members. Under the supervision of Maestro Wilhelm Demian, the members of the new institution were selected. Maestro Antonin Ciolan was appointed principal conductor of the symphonic ensemble. The first concert took place on December 4, 1955.
The city of Cluj-Napoca, capital of the important Romanian province of Transylvania, has a considerable cultural tradition: its University dates from 1723, and music has been printed here as early as the 16th century. The tradition of symphonic activity in Cluj-Napoca has its history since the beginning of the 19th century, maintained by associations like The Orchestra of the Cluj-Napoca National Theatre, Music Society and Music Circle. During the inter-war period, there ware series of symphonic events, sustained by the orchestras of the Cluj-Napoca Romanian Opera, Hungarian Theatre and by an orchestra belonging to the city’s Jewish community, called "Goldmark Orchestra". In 1947, there was the first attempt to found a concert institution – The "Ardealul" Philharmonic, which had a short existence of two seasons, but which set the basis for what the cultural life in Cluj-Napoca was to become. With such tradition it is no wonder that, in less than ten years after its foundation, the young orchestra has become one of the top symphonic ensembles in Romania.
This achievement owes a lot to the orchestra’s first conductor and artistic director, Maestro Antonin Ciolan. A disciple of Arthur Nikisch and Hans von Bülow, Ciolan began his career in Dresden, then returned to his country and worked in Iasi and Cluj. It was a great chance for the newly founded orchestra to benefit, in the first decade of its existence, of all the experience and knowledge, artistic capacity, enthusiasm and devotion of this great conductor. Due to Ciolan’s experience and the training of the young musicians from the Music Academy in Cluj-Napoca (called the Music Conservatory at that time), the Philharmonic’s progress was extremely fast. It soon became an important name among the national artistic values.
Maestro’s Ciolan work has been continued by two of his most accomplished disciples, the distinguished conductors Emil Simon - permanent conductor of the orchestra from 1960 till 2000, now retired - and Erich Bergel - conductor of the Cluj Philharmonic from 1966 to 1972, and Honorary Artistic Director from 1994 to his death in May 1998. They both brought their own contribution to the growth and refinement of the orchestra and the expanding of its repertoire towards late Romantic and 20th Century music. Another significant name connected with the ensemble is that of Cristian Mandeal, regular conductor between 1980 and 1987 - a period which was beneficial for both the orchestra and this highly gifted musician. Currently, the principal conductor is Maestro Nicolae Moldoveanu.
The collaboration with many famous guest artists helped to enhance the quality of the orchestra and enrich its artistic representation. Among them - the conductors Sir John Pritchard, Anatole Fistoulari, George Georgescu, Kiril Kondrashin, André Jolivet, Carlo Zecchi, Adrian Sunshine, Witold Lutoslawsky, Michi Inoue, Horia Andreescu, Maurice Handford, Stanislaw Wyslocky, János Ferencsik, Leopold Hager, Kurt Masur, Valeri Gergiev, Alexandr Dmitriev - the soloists Monique Haas, Sviatoslav Richter, Ruggiero Ricci, Valentin Gheorghiu, Friedrich Gulda, Annie Fischer, Aldo Ciccolini, Dmitri Bashkirov, Dan Grigore, Lazar Berman, Radu Lupu, Jean Pierre Rampal, Silvia Marcovici, Mihaela Martin, Bruno-Leonardo Gelber, Patrik Gallois, José Carreras, Angela Gheorghiu, Philippe Entremont, Roberto Alagna, Raphael Wallfish and others.
The Transylvania State Philharmonic successfully toured almost all the European countries. During the fall of 2000, the Cluj Orchestra, under the baton of the British conductor Paul Mann achieved a European tour together with The Deep Purple, on the occasion of releasing, after 30 years, the Concert for Rock Group and Orchestra by John Lord. The concerts took place in big cities of Europe, such as: Antwerpen, Kongresszentrum Hamburg, Trondjheim, Göteborg, Globe Arena Stockholm, International Congress Center Berlin, Praga, Luxembourg, Palais des Congrès Strasbourg, Festhalle Frankfurt, Schleyerhalle Stuttgart, Zürich, Madrid, Filaforum Milano, Palais des Congrès Paris, Stadthalle Wien, Westfallenhalle Dortmund, Rotterdam, Olympiahalle München, Katowice.
Though it is mainly focused on the symphonic and vocal-symphonic music, the Transylvania Philharmonic pays a special attention to the opera repertoire too. Remarkable in this sense is George Enescu’s opera Oedip, presented on the occasion of the composer’s centennial celebration (1981) at the Luzerne Festival. The Orchestra is periodically invited to collaborate at opera productions, organized within the famous “Red de Teatros”, Spain: Desvan Verdi, 2001 (26 concerts throughout Spain) and La Rebelion des los criados, 2002 (22 concerts throughout Spain).
Such collaborations also took place in Palacio de los Festivales - Santander, both with season concerts and within the Santander Festival, the last production being G. Verdi’s Simone Boccanegra in August 2003, where both the Orchestra and Choir performed, under the baton of Antonello Allemandi, under the direction of Petrika Ionescu - within the cast stars like Roberto Scandiuzzi, Cristina Gallardo-Domas, Roberto Frontali performed.
The Orchestra participated in several important international festivals in Bucharest, Torino, Warsaw, Istanbul, Santander, Strasbourg, Bratislava, Berlin and Interlaken. Starting with 1965, the Cluj Philharmonic annually organizes its own international festival, Cluj Musical Autumn Festival (Toamna Muzicală Clujeană), one of the most significant musical events in Romania, and starting with 2000, its own American Music Festival, reaching its 6th edition, unique in Romania and very well received by the Cluj audience. Since 1999, the “Transylvania” Philharmonic is co-organizer of the annual Mozart Festival, in collaboration with the Romanian Mozart Society.
In 1966, the Chamber Orchestra was founded, under the baton of the well-known Mircea Cristescu. In 1972, under the composer Sigismund Toduţă’s directorship, the Philharmonic’s Choir was founded and trained by Maestro Dorin Pop, followed by Florentin Mihăescu and Cornel Groza.
The Philharmonic’s current situation is difficult. In its 50th year of existence, the institution does not have its own headquarters and its own concert hall. The Students’ Culture House, the present location of the symphonic concerts, has an improper acoustic and a rather unpleasant ambiance. All this endangers the artistic level of the ensembles and had slowly reduced the public. The Philharmonic’s management started off a campaign to build a new concert hall with the supporof the local authorities. The new building is to be built in the middle of a 150 years-old park, which is a historic monument. The situation is unclear, because many people and organizations (including the Romanian Order of Architects) are against the initiative, considering that this will destroy the park. The mayor Emil Boc stated that he is open to suggestions involving the location of the new concert hall and the administration will search for other suitable locations, thus delaying the construction.
With its over 120 records, The Transylvania Philharmonic presents perhaps the largest discography among Romanian orchestras, featuring some of the finest artists of the country - the conductors Antonin Ciolan, Emil Simon, Erich Bergel, Cristian Mandeal and Mircea Cristescu, the pianists Valentin Gheorghiu and Dan Grigore, the violinists Stefan Ruha and Mihaela Martin. It is reflecting the entire range of the orchestra’s wide repertory, from the Baroque to contemporary music, including impressive series such as the complete Johannes Brahms symphonies (in two versions: the first one with A. Ciolan, E. Simon and M. Cristescu, the second and more recent one with Erich Bergel), a Debussy-Ravel record, a Wagner Overtures record (with E. Simon), Antonio Vivaldi’s The Seasons (violin Ştefan Ruha, ex-soloist of the Cluj Philharmonic), and the complete Bruckner symphonies (with C. Mandeal). The Romanian music is also represented within the Cluj Philharmonic discography: George Enescu’s 3rd Symphony, Orchestra and Choir conducted by Ludovic Bács - this record has also been taken over to be released by “Olympia” Recording House.