Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI (RAI National Symphony Orchestra or Italian Radio Symphony Orchestra or RAI Symphony Orchestra) is a major Italian symphony orchestra, based in Turin and owned by State radio and television company RAI. The RAI National Symphony Orchestra descends from the original Italian radio symphony orchestra founded in Turin, and has become one of the world's leading broadcasting symphony orchestras.
Radio is an Italian invention. Guglielmo Marconi first demonstrated the ability to detect signals transmitted through the air just before the beginning of the 20th century and very soon devised means to send telegraphic signals across the oceans. Lee DeForest's invention of the vacuum tube amplifier made it possible to transmit sounds by radio. From about 1920, experimental sound radio commenced in the major countries of the world. The Marconi Company and SIRAC (Società Italiana Radio Audizioni Circolari) united to found L'URI (Unione Radiofonica Italiana) on August 27, 1924. Its first broadcast, on October 6, 1924, from Rome, featured opera singer Maria Luisa Boncompagni, along with weather reports and stock market news. Branch stations were established in Milan (1925), Naples (1926), and Turin (1929).
L'URI was reorganized as EIAR (Ente Italiano per le Audizioni Radiofoniche) in 1928. The new organization put radio more under the control of the Fascist government, and through the 1930s and the war years EIAR had a strong propagandistic function.
Meanwhile in 1925, a new opera company, Teatro di Torino, had acquired the historic Teatro Scribe and in a short time became known for its enterprising support for neglected operas, both new and old. The company folded in 1931. EIAR acquired it and renovated it as a broadcast facility, founding a symphony orchestra (EIAR Symphony Orchestra) by joining orchestral musicians of Turin and Milan. Its first concert in the new symphony complex was in 1932.
After the collapse of Italy as an Axis power and the deposing of Benito Mussolini, EIAR was reorganized as RAI (Radio Audizioni Italia) which, with the technological advances of the time became RAI-Radiotelevizione Italiana when TV broadcasts began in 1954. Influenced by the BBC, RAI initiated its culturally-oriented service, Terzo Programma Radiofonico (Third Radio Program) in 1950.
In the meantime, other RAI centers built their own orchestras, until both Rome and Milan also had RAI Symphony Orchestras, and RAI Naples founded the Alessandro Scarlatti Chamber Orchestra. Over the years, the various RAI orchestras have been directed by all the major conductors of the day, from Vittorio Gui to Wilhelm Furtwängler, Herbert von Karajan, Antonio Guarnieri, Igor Stravinsky, Bruno Maderna, Leopold Stokowski, Sergiu Celibidache, Carlo Maria Giulini, Mario Rossi, Lorin Maazel, Thomas Schippers, Zubin Mehta and Wolfgang Sawallisch. Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Chailly, Riccardo Muti and Giuseppe Sinopoli have all made important debuts with the four orchestras.
In 1994 the four orchestras were merged in Turin. The new RAI symphony orchestra made its official debut with Georges Prêtre and Giuseppe Sinopoli, who shared the leadership of the orchestra. Since then, the original members have been joined by some of the best young instrumentalists. The orchestra immediately began giving concerts not only in Turin but also in other Italian cities (including Rome, Milan, Assisi, Bologna, Venice, Ravenna, and Ovietto. By the end of 1995, the orchestra had toured to fourteen French and German cities, to the Festival of the Canary Islands, and on a triumphant tour of Japan.
From 1996 to 2001, Eliahu Inbal was Honorary Conductor of the Orchestra, and Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos has been its Principal Conductor since September 2001. Jeffrey Tate was the First Guest Conductor from 1998 to 2002, when he took on the role of Honorary Conductor. Gianandrea Noseda was the first Guest Conductor from 2003 to 2006. Other important figures who have conducted the RAI National Symphony Orchestra include Carlo Maria Giulini, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Mstislav Rostropovich, Myung-Whun Chung, Riccardo Chailly, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Yuri Ahronovich, Marek Janowski, Dmitri Kitaenko, Alexander Lazarev, Valery Gergiev, Gerd Albrecht, Yutaka Sado and Mikko Franck. The Orchestra performs regular seasons in Turin, as well as Spring and other special cycles, such as the highly successful cycle of L.v. Beethoven symphonies directed by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos in June 2004.
The RAI NuovaMusica project was launched in February 2004; this is a review dedicated to contemporary music, which performs new symphonic and chamber works, many of which have been commissioned specifically, making their world or Italian premiere. The RAI National Symphony Orchestra often performs symphony and chamber concerts in the major cities and the most important festivals in Italy. It is a regular guest at Torino Settembre Musica and in Venice, and makes a number of important appearances abroad: the orchestra has toured Japan, Germany, the UK, France, Spain, the Canary Islands, South America, Switzerland, Austria and Greece, and was invited to play at the concluding concert of the Salzburg Festival on August 26, 2006.
The members of the Orchestra also make up a number of chamber groups of various sizes, with a busy concert schedule, as well as appearing in the Domenica Musica cycle, the regional Piemonte in Musica circuit and numerous concerts in Italy and abroad. RAI Symphony Orchestra performs its seasons in Turin, at the RAI Auditorium in piazza Rossaro. The RAI National Symphony Orchestra has also performed at particularly important events such as the Intergovernmental Conference of the European Union held in Turin, the concert to mark the Silver Jubilee of John Paul II's Pontificate in St. Peter's Square in Rome, the Solidarity Concert organised with the City of Turin for the reconstruction of the Guarini Chapel, many of the concerts held to mark Italian Republic Day from 1997 to the present day, and the 2000 New Year concert in Piazza del Quirinale in Rome, all of which were televised live. Another traditional appointment is the Christmas Concert in the Upper Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. On June 3 and 4, 2000, the Orchestra was one of the stars of the television event "La Traviata à Paris", conducted by Zubin Mehta and broadcast live on RaiUno and worldwide. This RAI production won the 2001 Emmy Award for the best musical show of the year and the Prix Italia as the best television programme in the Show category. On January 27, 2001 the Orchestra inaugurated the official celebrations to mark the centenary of the death of Giuseppe Verdi, with a live concert on RaiTre, performing his Requiem Mass in Parma Cathedral under Valery Gergiev. All the concerts of the RAI National Symphony Orchestra are broadcast on RAI Radio3, and many of them are recorded and televised on . The Orchestra also has numerous recordings to its name, particularly of works by contemporary composers, and numerous live CDs and DVDs have been made of its concerts.