© Eric Kemnitz

Gewandhaus­orchester Leipzig

The Gewandhaus Orchestra is the oldest bourgeois symphony orchestra in the world. The nucleus of the orchestra was the concert society "Leipziger Concert", founded in 1743 by 16 noblemen and burghers. The ensemble was renamed the "Gewandhausorchester" when it moved to the Tuchwarenhändler exhibition center in 1781. The most important Gewandhaus conductors include Johann Adam Hiller, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Arthur Nikisch, Kurt Masur, Herbert Blomstedt and Riccardo Chailly. Andris Nelsons has held the post of 21st Gewandhauskapellmeister since February 2018.

There has been a close connection between the private concert company "Leipziger Concert" and the municipal boys' choir of the Thomasschule from the very beginning. From a historical perspective, this relationship is extremely important for the development of the Gewandhaus Orchestra. Without it, the Gewandhausorchester would probably not have become a municipal orchestra - at least before 1945.

Until well into the 19th century, the Thomaner regularly took part in the Gewandhaus concerts; they were, in a sense, the Gewandhaus choir for long periods of time. Conversely, the theater and Gewandhaus orchestra musicians repeatedly helped out with the musical performances in the two city churches of St. Nikolai and St. Thomas. The town pipers were actually responsible for the church music, but they regularly engaged other musicians to support the church music. These increasingly included members of the theater and Gewandhaus orchestras. The activities of the theater and concert musicians were then officially regulated when Johann Adam Hiller, Cantor of St. Thomas, took office in 1789 and was able to persuade the city to permanently finance seven temporary positions for the church orchestra. Hiller, the former Gewandhaus music director who had now been promoted to cantor and municipal music director, hired musicians from the theater and Gewandhaus orchestras for these seven positions. In the following decades, the church orchestra was expanded position by position with Gewandhaus orchestra musicians, so that by the time Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy took office as Gewandhauskapellmeister (1835), more than half of the positions and all of the leading positions had already been filled by musicians from the theater and Gewandhaus orchestras.

In the middle of the 20th century, the collaboration between choir and orchestra was also presented in guest performances at home and abroad, mainly in Japan and Europe. The first joint guest performance abroad was in Switzerland on November 21, 1952. Thomaskantor Günther Ramin conducted cantatas 1 to 3 from Bach's Christmas oratorio BWV 248. On September 6, 1977, the first joint tour outside Europe began: the choir and orchestra made a guest appearance in Japan. The programs of the eleven concerts conducted by Thomaskantor Hans-Joachim Rotzsch included Bach's St. Matthew Passion BWV 244 alone eight times. To this day, the Gewandhaus Orchestra and Thomanerchor give joint guest performances at home and abroad under the direction of the Thomaskantor. Since September 11, 2021, the Swiss Andreas Reize has been the 18th Thomaskantor after Johann Sebastian Bach.