In a 2008 poll of the world’s leading music critics by Gramophone Magazine, the Amsterdam-based Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) was selected as the greatest in the world. Luckily, the orchestra is generous about sharing its talents with audiences across the globe; a typical season for the RCO comprises 80 concerts at home in Amsterdam and 40 abroad. In 2013, during its 125th anniversary season, the RCO became the first orchestra ever to visit six continents in one year.
“Since our first concert abroad in 1895, international tours have always been an important aspect of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s profile,” said Jan Raes, managing director of the RCO. “Since the first time the Concertgebouw Orchestra sailed to the United States in 1954, tours there have been a regular event, now taking place for the twenty-fourth time.”
This 24th tour includes a return to Washington at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, presented once more by Washington Performing Arts, the region’s preeminent presenter of the best orchestras from both within and outside the U.S. The February 13 program includes the perennially popular Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5, nicknamed “Emperor,” with Pierre-Laurent Aimard as piano soloist. A brand-new work by French composer Guillaume Connesson, “Eiréné,” commissioned by the RCO, will receive its first American performances on this tour.
“The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra has always stood for a combination of tradition and innovation, in recent years commissioning and performing new works from an average of four composers each season,” says Raes of the RCO’s devotion to commissioning new music. Although composers like Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler are now considered giants of the classical canon and their works are frequently performed by orchestras all over the world, the RCO championed their music while they were still living and working.
Speaking of Strauss, the orchestra’s Washington program also includes a work by that composer with a special connection to the RCO. “In the 1890s, Richard Strauss was so impressed with the then very young Concertgebouw Orchestra that he dedicated his symphonic poem ‘Ein Heldenleben’ to the orchestra,” Raes explains. “He conducted this piece and many of his other compositions with our orchestra many times, giving us the basis of an authentic tradition of performing his music. While we are deservedly famous for our relationship with Gustav Mahler, Strauss actually led many more performances with our orchestra than Mahler.”
Unusually for an orchestra of its age and size, the RCO has only had eight chief conductors in its history. Until recently, one of those was Daniele Gatti, who was the subject of multiple allegations of sexual harassment in 2018. To its credit, the RCO acted swiftly and decisively in removing Gatti from the chief conductor post and from all future tour dates. Daniel Harding, a British conductor who leads the Orchestre de Paris and also works regularly with the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, was chosen as Gatti’s replacement for this U.S. tour.
“Daniel Harding has been a successful guest conductor with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra for many years,” says Raes. “He was prepared to take over both concert programs for this U.S. tour unchanged, for which we are very grateful.”
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra performs on Wednesday, February 13 at 8 pm at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, 2700 F Street NW, Washington DC. For tickets, call the Washington Performing Arts box office at 202-785-9727, or go online.