The Norddeutschen Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester (The North German Radio Symphony Orchestra (NDR Symphony Orchestra, German: Sinfonieorchester des Norddeutschen Rundfunks, NDR-Symphony-Orchestra Hamburg, Hamburger Rundfunkorchester, NDR Sinfonieorchester) (= NDR-SO) is the leader among the three symphony orchestras in Hamburg, which belongs to the prominent renowned orchestras of the world. It is a major symphony orchestra with a strong reputation in contemporary music and is one of the important orchestras of Germany. The orchestra has gained great renown in the great classical and romantic composers such as Bruckner and L.v. Beethoven as well as in contemporary works. It organizes regular concert series in Hamburg, Lübeck, Kiel and Bremen.
Hamburg is the major trading city of North German, with a long and rich musical history, though its glory days were as long ago as the eighteenth century when Georg Philipp Telemann ran music for the city. A general economic depression in the mid-1800’s caused a lowering of musical standards. Orchestral music was marked by conservatism, timidity, and parsimony, which resulted in the city squandering its chance to hire its greatest musical son, Johannes Brahms, as conductor of the Philharmonic Orchestra, which did not re-establish high standards until conductor Karl Muck took over in 1922. In 1934, it merged with the city's opera orchestra under the name Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg (Philharmonic State Orchestra) both to serve as opera orchestra and give concerts.
Hans Bodenstedt founded the Hamburg radio station in 1924 and in 1928 engaged A. Secker to found a body of musicians for all broadcast purposes, the Norag-Orchester, led by José Eibenschütz. When the Nazis were appointed to lead the German government in 1933, they immediately seized control of all radio. Hamburg Radio became Reichssenders Hamburg and its orchestra was called the Grosses Rundfunkorchester des Reichssenders Hamburg (Large Radio Orchestra of Reichssenders Hamburg). It had a heavy commitment of radio and concert work during the Nazi years.
The ruined city of Hamburg fell into the British occupation zone after World War II. All four powers reorganized radio in their own zones according to their own systems. The British appointed a military officer, Jack Bornoff, the "Controller of Music" of the new station. He and conductor Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt (conductor of the Staatsoper from 1935 to 1942), who was living near the Hamburg area, located the scattered Grosses Rundfunkorchester musicians (some of which were in prison camps) and several more. Over a period of six months the assembled the orchestra, modeled on the BBC Symphony Orchestra of London. The new orchestra gave its first public concerts in August (or Nobember) 1945 with the renowned violinist and humanitarian Yehudi Menuhin as soloist.
The orchestra played to exceptionally high standards from the beginning. In common with most of the new German radio orchestras the NDRSO Hamburg (as it was named after the 1951 reorganization of West German Radio) placed contemporary music on equal footing with the great Classic and Romantic works in their repertory. They were responsible for many premieres of music by Bussotti, Henze, Lachenmann, Nono, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Ligeti, Penderecki, and many others. In 1951, the station established a series of broadcast concerts, with free admission, called Das Neue Werke (New Works), which has been one of the world's greatest launching pads for contemporary music.
The orchestra made major tours to England (1951, as part of the concerts celebrating the re-opening in Manchester of the Free Trade Hall), the U.S.S.R. (1961) and the USA (1963) under Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, who remained with the orchestra through 1971. For the next decade, the orchestra did not have a long-term music director; Moshe Atzmon served from 1972 to 1976 and after an interim Klaus Tennstedt was in charge from 1979 to 1981. Stability was regained under Günter Wand (Principal Conductor 1982-1990 and honorary conductor for life thereafter). Wand re-established the orchestra's high standards.
To his broadcast and concert audiences, Wand was known for his adventuresome modern music program, but to international CD buyers he was associated with his great complete series of L.v. Beethoven, Schubert, J. Brahms, and Bruckner symphonies, mostly with the NDR Hamburg.
John Eliot Gardiner served as Chief Conductor from 1991 to 1994, widening the orchestra's repertorire and has been succeeded by Herbert Blomstedt (1996-1998) and Christoph Eschenbach (beginning 1998). Since 2004, the orchestra's principal conductor has been Christoph von Dohnányi. In the 2005-2006 season the NDR Sinfonieorchester under the direction of its principal conductor Christoph von Dohnányi and its first guest conductor Alan Gilbert, will give numerous concerts in major European cities. In addition the NDR Sinfonieorchester follows invitations to South America, Japan, Switzerland and Austria. The current principal guest conductor is Alan Gilbert. In March 2009, the orchestra announced the appointment of Thomas Hengelbrock as its next principal conductor, effective with the 2011-2012 season, for an initial contract of 3 years.