A young ensemble with a rich history
The Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra was formed in 1985 with the merger of three existing ensembles: the Utrecht Symphony Orchestra, the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra and the Amsterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. The latter had been founded in 1953 by conductor Anton Kersjes. He succeeded in broadening the appeal of classical music, partly through his regular television appearances and partly by programming the popular ‘warhorses’ of the repertoire.
Kersjes did not just conduct; he enthralled his audience with the fascinating stories behind the music. His approach set the tone for the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra which has always been ‘the orchestra for everyone’.
Marc Albrecht has been chief conductor of the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra | Netherlands Chamber Orchestra and the Dutch National Opera since 2011 but the collaboration dates back to 2008 when Albrecht was invited to conduct the opera Die Frau ohne Schatten. ‘The mutual connection was so strong that we were able to make the impossible possible. At every performance there was a yearning to do it differently and even better.’ Marc Albrecht has certainly brought the orchestra onto a higher plane but he remains down to earth. ‘Since I moved here I go everywhere on my bike!’
A harmonious whole
Marc Albrecht’s arrival coincided with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra’s move from the Beurs van Berlage to its new permanent headquarters, the NedPhO-Koepel. It is here that it rehearses for concerts at the Royal Concertgebouw, the Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ, the National Opera and many other major venues at home and abroad. ‘On the one hand, each member of the orchestra should retain his or her individual identity. Everyone must be able to flourish and shine,’ says Albrecht. ‘On the other, these one hundred musicians should meld to form one harmonious whole. Everything forms part of the bigger picture, the grand story we are here to tell. Good musicians have a direct connection with the conductor, and a good conductor never loses contact with the musicians. They can play anything: I just have to invite them to do so!’
Since its formation in 1985, the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra has also been the house orchestra of the Dutch National Opera. Chief conductor Hartmut Haenchen was the first to take on this unusual dual role. Under Albrecht’s baton, the orchestra has made a huge impression with repertoire such as Schreker’s Der Schatzgräber – the recording of which won an Edison Classical Music Award in December 2014 - and Der Rosenkavalier, which earned five-star reviews from the national press.
The orchestra is widely regarded for its interpretation of the work of Gustav Mahler, which it frequently includes in its programmes. ‘The Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra certainly has an affinity with the style of the late romantic period and the early twentieth century. The musicians understand Mahler’s language,’ states Marc Albrecht. He and the orchestra are also well known for their interpretations of other late romantic masters: Brahms and Bruckner on the concert platform, Strauss and Wagner in the opera house.
The orchestra expanded its symphonic horizon with the appointment of the Russian-born American Yakov Kreizberg as its chief conductor in 2003. He introduced Slavic and Russian composers such as Dvořák and Stravinsky to the repertoire. Kreizberg died in 2011 at the tragically early age of 51.
Like Kreizberg, Marc Albrecht has a fondness for large-scale symphonic works, especially those which reflect the orchestra’s operatic connections. In 2014, he recorded Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, which includes a part for soprano. ‘The strings have the texture of a baby’s skin while the brass parts are well shaped and never strained,’ enthused the music critic of De Volkskrant. ‘Conductor Marc Albrecht and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra deliver a perfect performance.’