The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra is one of the world’s oldest orchestral institutions. It performs over 110 concerts per year and is based at the Grieg Hall in Bergen in Norway. The orchestra was established in 1765 under the Det Musicalske Selskab, The Musical Society, it later changed its name to Musikselskabet Harmonien and it is often referred to as ‘Harmonien’, the Harmony by the citizens of Bergen. After the first World War there was a strong interest in the major Norwegian cities of Bergen and Oslo in having larger orchestras, and in 1919 the orchestra in Bergen was reorganized to employ 40 professional full-time musicians. As of 2006 the orchestra consists of 98 musicians.
The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra has a long tradition of playing contemporary music. Beethoven’s second symphony was performed in Bergen the year is was published, 1804 – even before it was performed in Berlin. Edvard Grieg, the Bergen-born composer, had close ties with the orchestra, and was artistic director from 1880 to 1882. He also bequeathed a portion of his estate to a fund which continues to provide financial support for the orchestra. Other composers have served as principal conductor for the orchestra, including Arvid Fladmoe, Johan Halvorsen, Iver Holter, Richard Henneberg, Olav Kielland and Per Winge. Composer Harald Sæverud was frequently invited to conduct his own compositions, and the orchestra continues to commission and perform new compositions on a regular basis. Other composers who have conducted their own works with the orchestra include Aaron Copland, Karl Nielsen, Jean Sibelius, Wilold Lutoslawski, Lukas Foss and Krzysztog Penderecki. In 1953 the Festspillene i Bergen was started and Leopold Stokowski was contracted to conduct the orchestra. Other conductors at the Bergen Festival have included Eugene Ormandy and Sir Thomas Beecham.