It was back in 1962 that the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation decided to establish a permanent orchestral body, which initially consisted of only 12 musicians (chords and continuo group), originally designated as Gulbenkian Chamber Orchestra (Portuguese: Orquestra de Câmara Gulbenkian). This collective was successively enlarged up to the point where today the Gulbenkian Orchestra (Portuguese: Orquestra Gulbenkian) (the name it has adopted since 1971) counts upon a permanent body of 66 instrumentalists which can be expanded here and there in accordance with the needs of the programmes at hand.
This structure allows Orquestra Gulbenkian to interpret a wide repertoire which spans all of the Classical period, a significant part of 19th century orchestral literature and much of the music of the 20th century. Works belonging to the current repertoire of the grand traditional symphonic orchestras, namely Haydnís, Mozartís, L.v. Beethovenís, Schubertís, Felix Mendelssohnís or Schumannís orchestral productions, can thus be delivered by Orquestra Gulbenkian in versions that are closer to the orchestrations they originally were conceived for as far as the balance of their internal sonic architecture is concerned. In each season the Orchestra executes a regular series of concerts at the Grande Auditório Gulbenkian in Lisbon (Grand Auditorium of the Gulbenkian Foundation). There it has had the opportunity of working together with some of the biggest names in the world of music (conductors and soloists). It has also performed on numerous locations all over Portugal, which has allowed it to contribute to decentralizing culture.
The Orchestra has been gradually expanding his activities in the international level, performing in Europe, Asia Africa and the Americas. The orchestra made its American debut in November 1997 in Newark, New Jersey. More recently the Gulbenkian Orchestra made another appearance at the Enescu Festival (September 13, 2011) and visited Armenia for the first time, giving two concerts in Yerevan (September 15 & 16, 2011), in both cases under the direction of Maestro Lawrence Foster. New tours are in preparation for 2013, namely in Austria (March), Germany (July) and China (October).
In the recording level, the name of the Gulbenkian Orchestra is associated to labels as Philips, Deutsche Grammophon External Link, Hyperion, Teldec, Erato External Link, Adès, Nimbus, Lyrinx, Naïve and Pentatone, among others, and this activity has been recognized with several prestigious international prizes.
Between the most recent discographic projects should be mentioned the first world recording of Salieriís Requiem, a recording with works by Ligeti, Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók, and a new collaboration with the pianist Sa Chen released in 2012, all of them under the direction of Maestro Lawrence Foster and for Pentatone. The Gulbenkian Orchestra recorded a CD dedicated to the young public - Prokofievís Peter and the Wolf, Camille Saint-Saënsí Carnival of the Animals and Benjamin Brittenís Guide to the Orchestra -, under the direction of Joana Carneiro, released in 2011. Currently in preparation are three CDís featuring soloists from the Gulbenkian Orchestra, under the direction of Lawrence Foster, Joana Carneiro and Pedro Neves, edition which will be part of the commemorations of the 50th anniversary of this ensemble that will be celebrated throughout the 2012-2013 season with several initiatives.
Lawrence Foster is responsible for the artistic direction of the ensemble since the season 2002-2003, of which he is also Principal Conductor. Claudio Scimone, which occupied this position between 1979 and 1986, was nominated in 1987 its Honorary Conductor. Joana Carneiro holds the position of Guest Conductor of the Orchestra since the season 2006-2007. In September 2012, the orchestra announced the appointment of Paul McCreesh as its next Principal Conductor and artistic adviser, with an initial contract of 4 years beginning in 2013-2014.