In the 18th century, after the liberation from the Ottoman subjection and the age of restoration of Catholicism, Oradea started to blossom on the field of culture and music. In the beginning of the 1760’s Adam Patachich, an ardent patron of arts invited a young musician, Johann Michael Haydn (1737-1806) to Oradea, younger brother of Joseph Haydn, to organize and oversee the musical life of the city. Michael Haydn was active in our city between 1760 and 1762. He was followed by Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739-1799) who was the head of episcopal orchestra between 1764-1769. Practically, it is to these two composers that we may thank the foundation Johann Michael Haydn and organization of orchestral music in our town. Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf An outstanding figure of the era must be mentioned, Wenzel Pichl (1739-1799) who worked in episcopal court and showed a keen interest in music. In the time of Dittersdorf, the orchestra consisted of 34 musicians from Prague to Vienna, due to the number of staff and their proficiency made Oradea unique in Europe. Contemporary musical life embedded not only the episcopal court’s sacred music but the profane execution, concerts, theatrical and opera performances as well. Maria Theresa ungratified with the luxurious and, unbecoming of an episcopate, debauched musical life of the country town, dissolved the music band in Oradea and relocated Patachich. This is how a uniquely flourishing, busy musical life in Oradea ended, which, unfortunately, lasted only a decade.
Foundation of Musical Institutions- the First Philharmony Concert
The 19th century was extremely colourful in Oradea’s musical life. Increasingly, music was liberated out of the confines of the Church. Professional music was born. Lay music and salon music gathered ground in this period. With the development of stage production, opera performances doubled and the number of musical events increased. In 1823 about 83 operas were performed in Oradea. During the 19th century, the audience heard and saw contemporary author’s operas on stage such as Rossini, Donizetti, Weber, Verdi, Mozart, Auber, Gounod and Erkel. The companies led by count Lajos Rhédey, Dávid Kilényi, Ferenc Komlósi and Antal Ruzitska must also be mentioned.
The second half of the century was the period in which a large number of institutions were founded in Oradea. Numerous associations, clubs, companies were formed: the Nagyváradi Dalárda (1867), Hilaria Chanter (1875), the orchestra of the Premontrei law-school was founded conductor was Gustav Weinpolter, followed by János Fehérváry. On the 5th of January 1888 the first philharmonic concert was organized. The conductor was J. Schnitzl and Rossini’s overture to the opera Tancredi, Serenade No. 3 by Wolkmann, Ekhard’s horn variation, and Mozart’s 40 G-minor was played. In 1890 the society of Music Lovers of Oradea was formed. Their goal was to teach classical music, have regular performances and concerts, organize concerts and found a music school. Thank to this group an opera company was founded, in addition to the already-existing theatre company.
The institution of the State Philharmony
The question of gathering the musicians into a more serious society was first raised in the 1920’s. That is how the Society of Philharmony was created which held its statutory meeting on the 23 December, 1923. The following concerts were organized under the aegis of this Society, the symphonic orchestra conducted by József Vamocska played mostly Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Smetana and Wagner’s popular compositions. In 1949, the Philharmonic Society becomes a state institution, and played an active role in the national and international concert life.
The Oradea State Philharmony was managed by the following directors: Miklós Gyarmati (1949), Lajos Bálint (1949-1950), József Árvai (1950-1952), Anton Mureșan (1952-1957), Constantin Dulgherescu – temporary director (1953), Lajos Tóth (1957-1963), Rozália Piroska – temporary director (1960-1961), Alexandru Firez (1963-1984), Ervin Acél (1984-1991), Romeo Rîmbu (1991-1998), Corneliu Cristea (1998-2002; artistic director 2002-2011), Zsolt Sarkady – general manager (2002-2009), Albert Tódor – general manager (2009 – 2017), Vasile Foica – artistic director (2011 – up to the present), Vilmos Tibor Meleg - general manager (2017 - up to the present).
The principal conductors of orchestra were: Romulus Botto (1949-1951), Zoltán Matolcsi (1950-1952), Constantin Dulgherescu (1952-1953), Aurel Popa (1953-1955), Erich Bergel (1956-1963), Miron Raţiu (1957-1990), Liviu Florea (1959-1960), Remus Georgescu (1960-1963), Ervin Acél (1963-1991 and 1999-2006), Romeo Rîmbu (1991-up to the present), Zsolt Jankó (2007-up to the present). Thanks to their activity many concerts and concert trips, recordings, first performances came into being, their labour coalesced with the institution and the orchestra developed and polished their professional skills and created its repertoire under these great names.
In the past decades the following artist cooperated with the symphonic orchestra: Igor Oistrakh, Mario del Monaco, Dimitri Bashkirov, Aldo Ciccolini, Adam Horosiewicz, Arkadi Sevidov, Daniel Safran, Gidon Kremer, Ruggiero Ricci, Victor Tretiakov (enclosed photo), Erich Bergel, Pierre Pierlot, Halina Czerny Stefanska, Zoltán Kocsis, Jenő Jandó, Dezső Ránki, Miklós Perényi, István Ruha, Ştefan Gheorghiu, Valentin Gheorghiu, Ion Voicu, Mihaela Martin, Dan Grigore, Dana Borşan, Florin Croitoru, Gabriel Croitoru, Liviu Prunaru and more others.
The repertoire of the orchestra has displayed a great variety. At present, it covers authors from Preclassical literature to Classical and popular Romantic pieces and 20th century music (Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Richard Strauss, Respighi, Stravinsky, Webern, Enescu, Bartók).
The orchestra went on many tours and participated at numerous festivals in the last years (Lancut, Assisi, Macerata, Bucharest). Many concerts were held in Europe (Poland, Hungary, Italy, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Luxemburg, France, Portugal, Switzerland), as well as Brasil and Taiwan.
Starting with the 2003/2004 season the Philharmony regained exclusive use of the renovated concert hall, which was a crucial achievement because the previous seasons the orchestra divided the use of hall with the theatre and the schedule for rehearsals and concerts was difficult to manage. The newly-renovated concert-hall has been named after George Enescu and Béla Bartók not only to honor their memories but to prove, by means of example, how different cultures can live next to each other in peace.
The concert hall provides new facilities as well, like organizing vocal and symphonic, chamber and a capella concerts and educational concerts for children are organized here too. In the past years, the Philharmony has also managed to put on stage some operas, which is a big delight for it.
In 2003 the Philharmony bought a high-class quality Bösendorfer piano and it represents a great attraction both to performers as well as the audience.
One of the aims of the institution is to embrace new talents and to give them floor to show their talent. Thus, the orchestra beside the experienced members enriched its numbers with new artists, and young conductors and soloist could also introduce themselves.
More then 40 recordings keep the play of the orchestra and we can find some unique recordings the above mentioned 18th century composers from Oradea. The concerts abroad, the international tours and the 40 regular concerts prove that the institution would like to convey high quality classical music to the audience, and promote high culture.