Culture & Arts

The Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra celebrates their 160 year anniversary

Artistic and Musical Director Kazuki Yamada designed his programme in the Salle Garnier with the year 1856 in mind

This year marks a very special anniversary for the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra. The year 1856 was the year Monaco’s symphony orchestra was born, and also marks the death of composer Robert Schumann. These two events unrelated events were brought into play by the Director of the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic, Kazuki Yamada, in celebration of the orchestra’s 160th year of existence.

Thus the concert began with a work by Schumann: his concerto for piano and orchestra. This famous score featured a magnificent, powerful and inspired soloist, the Italian pianist Francesco Piemontesi, a pianist who drew from the depths of his keys a grand tribute to romanticism. He performed an encore with an extract from the “Years of Pilgrimage” by Liszt.

It was also in 1856 that Brahms composed the Serenade, which was heard next: a multifaceted work with a succession of splendid fanfare, pastoral meditations, popular tunes, and warlike hammering.

Throughout the concert, Kazuki Yamada made the orchestra shine. One word truly stands out in describing what was heard that night: “class”. There seemed to be a perfect union between the orchestra and their leader.

The very least that can be said is that, one hundred and sixty years later, the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic is in top form!

“l’Orchestre du Cercle des Étrangers” (the Orchestra of the New Circle of Foreigners)

In December 1856, Monte-Carlo did not exist. In its place there lay olive trees and orange groves. Trains did not yet extend to Monaco and it took an age to arrive from Nice by road. Prosperity had not yet blossomed here, and Roquebrune and Menton, which previously contributed economically to the Principality, had just gained their autonomy. After the difficult reign of Florestan I, his son Charles III had just ascended to power. He would later transform the Principality and build the area which bears his name: the “Mont Charles”: Monte-Carlo. Charles III envisaged the arrival of an aristocratic clientele by creating a Casino and touristic and cultural activities. The first casino, established in the Condamine neighbourhood, was called the “Cercle des Étrangers”

Early December 1856, exactly 160 years ago, an orchestra was established. This was the ancestor of the current Philharmonic. There were no more than twenty musicians, who played fashionable tunes, arrangements of Beethoven symphonies. It was a start. The Casino prospered, trains finally came, European aristocrats arrived, Monte-Carlo was created (in 1866), and the orchestra grew. It was successively led by Eusèbe Lucas, who increased their number to 70 musicians, then by Roméo Accursi, the nephew of the famous composer Donizetti. In January 1879, Sarah Bernhardt inaugurated the sumptuous Salle Garnier.

They became “Symphonic” in 1980

The Monaco symphony orchestra henceforth had its concert hall. It became a great European orchestra capable of entering the 20th century in full glory. It brought to life various operas (‘Don Quichotte’, by Jules Massenet; ‘Pénélope’, by Fauré; ‘Enfant et les Sortilèges’ by Ravel; ‘l’Hirondelle’ by Puccini), and modern music by Stravinsky, Ravel, Poulenc, and Satie to accompany the Russian Ballets of Diaghilev. Illustrious leaders would take the stand: Richard Strauss, Arturo Toscanini, Pierre Monteux, Charles Munch, Leonard Bernstein, Paul Paray, lgorMarketvitch. The last two of these would even serve as Directors for several years. It was in 1980 that the orchestra took its current name of Philharmonic.

Successive directors have been Lovro Von Matacic, Lawrence Foster, James De Preist, Marek Janowski, Yakov Kreizberg, Gianluigi Gelmetti. Since the start of the season, the Philharmonic has its first Japanese director, Kazuki Yamada. Yamada has, since arriving in the Principality, wished to anchor the orchestra’s musical programme in its history, thus leading to the celebration of the 160 years of this orchestra which, in 1856, was known as the ‘Orchestre du Cercle des Étrangers’.

This remarkable anniversary for the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra will hopefully inspire a further 160 years of creation and of appreciation for beautiful music.

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