Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden (The Dresden State Orchestra of Saxony) (= SSKD) celebrated its 450th Anniversary on 22. September 1998. Founded in 1548 by Elector Moritz of Saxony, it is not only one of the oldest orchestras in the world and most rich in tradition, but it may well be the only one which has continuously played for more than four and a half centuries and which at the same time has always been one of the leading orchestras during various epochs. Heinrich Schütz already knew in the middle of the 17th century “that it may shine forth and be praised as a light among Protestant chapels”. Jean Jacques Rousseau characterised the orchestra as “...the one with the most balanced forces and the most perfect ensemble”. In 1823, in one of L.v. Beethoven’s conversation booklets is stated: “It is generally said that the Dresden Hofkapelle is the best orchestra in Europe.” For Richard Wagner it was a “miraculous harp”, and Richard Strauss called it “the best opera orchestra in the world.” Seiji Ozawa, after recording Salome in 1991, said, “This orchestra is a dream”, and for Sir Colin Davis it is “the most individual orchestra”.
In addition to the stylistic variability, the technical standards, the culture of playing and the commitment, which comes from a love for music and the very specific spirit of the ensemble, it is primarily the character, distinctive in timbre, transparency and homogeneity of its sound, which has grown through tradition and has lived on through generations of musicians, which leads the public and the press throughout the world to speak, even today, of one of the greatest orchestras in the world.
Excellent Music Directors and internationally renowned instrumentalists have characterised what used to be the court orchestra and is today the SSKD. Its conductors have include Johann Walter, Heinrich Schütz, Johann Adolf Hasse, Carl Maria von Weber, Richard Wagner and Ernst von Schuch. Worthy of mention from the 20th century are Fritz Reiner, Fritz Busch, Karl Böhm, Joseph Keilberth, Rudolf Kempe, Franz Konwitschny, Otmar Suitner, Kurt Sanderling and Herbert Blomstedt. Giuseppe Sinopoli was the Chief Conductor from 1992 up to his sudden death in April 2001. In the summer of 2002 Bernard Haitink took over this position. Sir Colin Davis is Honorary Conductor. Richard Strauss was connected to the orchestra, whose international reputation as the “Strauss orchestra” continues until today, as composer, conductor and friend for more than 60 years; nine of his operas were premiered in Dresden (including Salome, Elektra, and Der Rosenkavalier) and he dedicated the Alpine Symphony to the Dresden orchestra.
The list of works premiered by the SSKD, or dedicated to it, is long: it ranges from Antonio Vivaldi, Wagner, Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt, Strauss, Paul Hindemith, Weill, Blacher and others, to newer compositions by Zimmermann, Matthus, Rihm and Kantscheli. Many prominent guests have played with the orchestra: composers such as Mozart, Paganini, Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt, Berlioz, Johannes Brahms, Igor Stravinsky, Lutoslawski, Henze; the conductors Herbert von Karajan, Kleiber, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Eugen Jochum, Seiji Ozawa, James Levine, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel, Previn, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, John Eliot Gardiner, Christoph Eschenbach, Myung-Whun Chung, Gatti, Georges Prêtre, Kent Nagano, Fabio Luisi, Thielemann and others.
An opera orchestra since the first third of the 17th century, the SSKD today disposes of a wide-ranging repertoire between the Baroque and the most modern in the reconstructed Semper Opera House. It started by giving public concerts at the end of the 18th century; subscription concerts were introduced in 1858. The SSKD members are dedicated, with a unique setting of idealistic goals, to a continuous maintenance of chamber music in the “Chamber Music of the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden”, which traces its roots back to the “Tonkünstler-Verein” founded in 1854. At present, the SSKD plays about 50 symphonic and chamber music concerts each season in the Semper Opera Housw. More than 50 members of the orchestra teach as professors and lecturers at the “Carl Maria von Weber” College of Music.
The SSKD regularly undertakes extensive tours to the musical centres of the world. Since 2000 they have given guest performances in Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan and the USA, Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Austria, Belgium, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Poland and in all the major German cities. They have also participated in festivals such as the Vienna and Berlin Festwochen, the Beethoven Festival in Bonn, the Salzburg Festival, the Schleswig-Holstein and the Rheingau Festivals, the Osaka Festival, the Luzern Musikfestwochen, the Edinburgh Festival and the London Proms.
The catalogue of albums released by the orchestra since the 1920’s lists a large number of recordings of the symphonic and opera repertoire with prominent guest conductors.
Chief Conductor Bernard Haitink has been working continuously with the SSKD since 1989 for concerts in Dresden as well as on tour with a repertoire including Mozart, Haydn, L.v. Beethoven, Schubert, Weber, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Bruckner, Gustav Mahler, Strauss, I. Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Dmitri Shostakovich, Anton Webern and Béla Bartók. Together with the orchestra he has recorded Fidelio (Philips), Der Rosenkavalier (EMI) and L.v. Beethoven’s Piano Concertos (Soloist: András Schiff; Teldec).
As Sponsor of the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, the Dresdner Bank, has supported important artistic projects of the Orchestra since 1994.