The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (= FRSO) (Finnish: [Yleis]Radion sinfoniaorkesteri, Swedish: [Rund]Radions Symfoniorkester) is a Finnish orchestra based in Helsinki, and is the chief radio orchestra of the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE). The orchestra primarily gives concerts at the Finlandia Hall and the Hall of Culture in Helsinki. Primary funding comes from television licence fees from the Finnish population.
The Orchestra was founded in 1927 as the Radio Orchestra with ten musicians, and Erkki Linko as its first conductor. Though never holding the title of chief conductor, Linko remained affiliated with the orchestra until 1952. Toivo Haapanen became the orchestra's first chief conductor in 1929 and held the post until his death in 1950. The small orchestra grew to 21 members in 1929, when it gave its first public concert. A decisive step was taken beyond Finland’s frontiers when it appeared in the series of "European Concerts" launched in 1931. These concerts were organised by the International Broadcasting Union (IBU), the predecessor of the post-war broadcasting unions. Finland's first European Concert was in 1933. For this the Radio Orchestra and the Helsinki Philharmonic joined forces under the direction of Armas Järnefelt. But the most memorable of all the radio broadcasts from Finland was that on New Year's Day 1939 celebrating the New York World Fair. Jean Sibelius took up the baton for the last time in his life to conduct the Orchestra in a performance of his Andante Festivo. The recording of this broadcast is the only remaining one of Sibelius as a conductor. The orchestra performed mainly studio concerts for the first portion of its history. Until World War II, the orchestra gave only 20 public concerts, with freelance musicians to bolster the ranks.
After World War II, with the new Director General Hella Wuolijoki in place, a new period of marked growth began and the Orchestra grew to 50 musicians. In September 1947, the orchestra initiated a series of "Tuesday Concerts" at Helsinki Town Hall. The roster grew to 67 musicians by 1953. The orchestra's second chief conductor, Nils-Eric Fougstedt, served from 1950 until his death in 1961, and expanded the orchestra's repertoire. After World War II, a new period of marked growth began and the Orchestra grew to 50 musicians, expanding further to 70 in 1953, when Nils-Eric Fougstedt was Chief Conductor. Fougstedt’s period was noted above all for the introduction of contemporary music, as important composers were invited to conduct the Orchestra in performances of their own music. In 1955 these included Paul Hindemith, who received the Sibelius Prize, and in 1961 Igor Stravinsky, then 79 years old, who also conducted a concert of his own works.
Contemporary music continues to hold a prominent position in the repertoire of the FRSO, which has so far given first performances of more than 500 Finnish works. Nowadays, the Orchestra annually commissions three to four new works.
After Fougstedt’s death the position of Chief Conductor passed in 1962 to Paavo Berglund, who had been a violinist in the FRSO 10 years prior to his accession to the chief conductorship. Berglund’s decade meant a decisive improvement in the quality of the Orchestra and the beginning of its international career. The duties and the position of the FRSO had to be re-evaluated and it was enlarged to 90 members in the 1970’s, into a full symphony orchestra. After its first trip abroad, to Leningrad in 1963, it received invitations from various countries and visited the German Democratic Republic, Estonia, Denmark and the UK. In honour of the 100th anniversary of Sibelius’s birth in 1965, performances were televised abroad for the first time.
Paavo Berglund was followed after 10 years as Chief Conductor by Okko Kamu in 1971 and by Leif Segerstam in 1977. From 1987 to 2001, Jukka-Pekka Saraste was Chief Conductor of the FRSO and in 1989 the Orchestra made an extensive tour of the Far East followed by concerts in Copenhagen, Brussels and Germany. Jukka-Pekka Saraste is now the orchestra's conductor laureate. Sakari Oramo was appointed Chief Conductor of the FRSO as of August 2003, having earlier held the post of Associate Chief Conductor. In September 2010, the orchestra announced the conclusion of Oramo's tenure as principal conductor as of May 2012. Oramu is also Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
The Orchestra made its debut at the BBC Promenade Concerts in August 1991. This was the first time a Finnish orchestra had performed at the Proms, and it returned in 1997 and 2001. The next visit is scheduled for August 2006 and will be the first with Sakari Oramo conducting the FRSO. In 1993, its highly successful concerts at the prestigious Canaries Festival under the baton of Jukka-Pekka Saraste led to a regular presence at the Festival and reappearances in 1994, 1997 and 2002, returning in 2005 for the first time under Sakari Oramo. Since 1994, Viennese audiences have welcomed the FRSO on a regular basis: in 1996, twice in 1998 and again in April 2002. Oramo continued the tradition with the FRSO in autumn 2003. The 1998-1999 season saw the Orchestra’s debut at the Edinburgh International Festival and a return visit to Japan. The Schleswig-Holstein Festival followed in August 2001, and the FRSO made its USA debut in January 2003.
With Sakari Oramo the FRSO has appeared at the Baltic Sea Festival in Stockholm, in Vienna, Germany and Switzerland, at the Canaries Festival, in Spain and Japan, at the Bergen Music Festival in Norway, the Edinburgh Festival, at the Proms Festival in London and at the Prague Spring Festival. The FRSO celebrated its 80th anniversary in autumn 2007.
The FRSO's discography includes, besides the music of Jean Sibelius, music by other Finnish composers such as Paavo Heininen, Joonas Kokkonen, Magnus Lindberg and Aarre Merikanto. They have also recorded repertoire by non-Finnish composers, such as symphonies of Gustav Mahler and Carl Nielsen, and music of Béla Bartók.
With Sakari Oramo the FRSO has recorded for the Finnish label Ondine music by Kimmo Hakola (the 100th FRSO release), Jouni Kaipainen, Magnus Lindberg, Uuno Klami, Ernst Mielck, Pehr Henrik Nordgren and others, and the debut disc of the opera Aslak Hetta by Armas Launis on a Lappish theme. Its disc of the 3rd and 5th symphonies by Nordgren won the Académie Charles Cros Award in 2000 and that of works by Magnus Lindberg (with Kari Kriikku, clarinet, as the soloist) was singled out as the Record of the Year 2005 by the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) and was nominated for the BBC Music Magazine Award 2006. It has also attracted considerable international attention, being voted one of the Records of the Year by The New York Times, The Financial Times and BBC Radio 3. In France, Le Monde de la Musique chose it as one of the 20 best recordings made last year (Les Chocs d l’annee 2005) and Classica-Repertoire as one of its Records of the Month for November 2005 (Editor’s Choice). It was Disc of the Month of America’s Classicstoday.com in November 2005 and CD of the Week of The Guardian in September 2005. In 2006 the disc won the most prestigious international honour of all for classical music: the Classic FM Gramophone Award. The most recent award was given to FRSO's and Lisa Batiashvili's new recording of Jean Sibelius' and Magnus Lindberg's Violin Concertos, which received the MIDEM Classical Award in 2008.
The FRSO has made discs of music by Kaija Saariaho with Jukka-Pekka Saraste and by Magnus Lindberg with Esa-Pekka Salonen. In early 2005 DGG released an FRSO recording of works by Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted by the composer. The FRSO and Jukka-Pekka Saraste have twice recorded the complete Sibelius symphonies; the first time with the violin concerto and other orchestral works for BMG on RCA Red Seal, and an acclaimed cycle for Finlandia (Warner Classics) that includes the Kullervo Symphony.