Following its founding in 1882, the Berliner Philharmoniker gained an excellent reputation in a very short amount of time. As early as the 19th century, the ensemble has performed with composers such as Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Mahler and is a tradition that continues to the present day, welcoming guest conductorships with Sibelius, Richard Strauss, Paul Hindemith, Pierre Boulez, Peter Eötvös, and John Adams. Collaborations with each of the assertive principal conductors have helped unleash new potential for the equally assertive orchestra. The list features a wide-ranging line-up from Hans von Bülow, one of the finest orchestral educators of the 19th century, through the spirited Arthur Nikisch to Wilhelm Furtwängler, who is considered by many connoisseurs to be the most profound interpreter of the 20th century to this day.
From 1956 to 1989, Herbert von Karajan was at the helm of the orchestra, under whose leadership they made the transition into the media age, selling millions of recordings. Under his tenure, a suitable concert hall befitting the orchestra's international importance was built and the Philharmonie, designed by Hans Scharoun, was opened in 1963. It has since served as a model for buildings such as the Suntory Hall in Tokyo. Karajan was succeeded by the more collegial and introverted Claudio Abbado at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, who declared the music of Mahler, of the Viennese modernism movement, and of the present day to be his top priority. The orchestra's new position at the centre of a unified Germany and Europe led to a series of events that began in 1991: the European Concert is held each year at a culturally and historically significant location on the continent on 1 May, the orchestra's founding day. Taking the reins in 2002, Sir Simon Rattle not only developed a huge repertoire with the orchestra, from Bach's St. Matthew Passion to world premieres, but also established the successful Education Programme. Kirill Petrenko, who has been chief conductor since 2019, fascinates with his precise and passionate interpretations, his work to date focusing on classical-romantic symphonies, the Second Viennese School, Russian music, as well as renowned works and rarities of the modern era.
The Berlin Philharmoniker's international concert activities have taken it on tours all over the world, choosing the USA and the Far East as regular destinations ever since Karajan's time. As an opera orchestra, the ensemble appears every year at the Easter Festival that was founded in Salzburg in 1967 and has been hosted in Baden-Baden since 2013.