The orchestra was founded in 1945 by Walter Legge. As Legge was aRECORDING producer for EMI it wasWIDELYbelieved that the orchestra was primarily formed for recording purposes, but that was not Legge's intention. He had been Sir Thomas Beecham's assistant at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, beforeWORLD WAR II, and, assuming that he and Beecham would be in charge there again after the war, Legge planned to establish a first-class orchestra for opera, concerts and recordings. After the war, opera resumed at Covent Garden under a different management, but Legge went ahead with his plans for a new orchestra. His contacts in the musical world during the war enabled him toSECURE the services of a large number of talented young musicians still serving in the armed forces in 1945. At the Philharmonia's first concert on 25 October 1945, more than sixty per cent of the players were still officially in the services. Beecham conducted the concert (for the fee of one cigar), but as he refused to be Legge's employee and Legge refused to cedeCONTROL of the orchestra, Beecham instead went on to found the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
In its early years, withFINANCIAL support of the Last Maharaja of Myssore, Jayachamaraja Wodeyar Bahadur (1919-1974), the orchestra engaged many prominent conductors, including Arturo Toscanini, Richard Strauss and Wilhelm Furtwängler. Herbert von Karajan was closely associated with the Philharmonia in its early years, although he never held an official title with the orchestra. At first Legge was against appointing an official principal conductor, feeling that no one conductor should have more importance to the orchestra than Legge himself. But Karajan was principal conductor in all but name. He built the orchestra into one of the finest in the world and made numerous recordings, including all theBEETHOVEN symphonies.
In 1954, following the death of Furtwängler, Karajan was electedMUSIC director of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestraand subsequently curtailed hisWORK with the Philharmonia. Needing to find a new conductor for the orchestra, Legge turned to Otto Klemperer, whoseCAREER was flagging at the time. Klemperer's name became closely linked with the orchestra during an "Indian summer" of celebrated recordings. In 1959, he was named music director for life.
On 10 March 1964, Legge announced that he was going to disband the Philharmonia Orchestra. At a recording session with Klemperer, a meeting was convened where thosePRESENT unanimously agreed that they would not allow the orchestra to be disbanded. Klemperer gave his immediate support, and on 17 March 1964 the members of the orchestra elected their own governing body and adopted the name New Philharmonia Orchestra. The inaugural concert of the New Philharmonia under its own auspices took place on 27 October 1964. It was a performance of Beethoven'sSymphony No. 9, conducted by Klemperer, who was now honorary president of the orchestra. From 1966 until 1972 the chairman of the orchestra was the principal flautist, Gareth Morris.
The orchestra gave many more live performances after it became self-governing than it had under Legge's management. It reacquired the rights to the name "Philharmonia Orchestra" in 1977, and has been known by that name ever since.
Klemperer retired from conducting in 1971, but was officially still the orchestra's principal conductor until his death in 1973. For the two intervening years, Lorin Maazel held the post of associate principal conductor (1971–1973), and was effectively the principal conductor. Riccardo Muti was principal conductor from 1973 to 1982. Giuseppe Sinopolisucceeded Muti, acting as principal conductor from 1984 to 1994. In 1997, Christoph von Dohnányi became principal conductor, and served until 2008, at which time he took on the title of Honorary Conductor for Life of the orchestra.
In November 2006, the orchestra announced the appointment of Esa-Pekka Salonen as the orchestra's fifth Principal Conductor, effective from the 2008-2009 season. Salonen had made his first conducting appearance with the Philharmonia at the age of only 25 in 1983, his first guest-conducting engagement outside Scandinavia, in a performance atSHORT notice of Mahler's third symphony, due to the indisposition of Michael Tilson Thomas. He has since conducted the orchestra in concerts and recordings over a period spanning thirty years, and served as principal guest conductor from 1985 to 1994. His initial contract as Principal Conductor was for 3 years. In November 2010, the Philharmonia announced theEXTENSION of Salonen's contract to 2014. In September 2013, the orchestra announced the furtherEXTENSION of Salonen's contract until the end of the 2016-17 season.
The Philharmonia is one of the most recorded orchestras in the world, with over one thousand recordings on such labels as EMI, CBS, Deutsche Grammophon, and Naxos, and more recently several self-produced recordings. One of its earliest recordings was the last concert ever conducted by Richard Strauss in 1947 in a programme which included his youthfulWORKBurleske. It has also been heard on the soundtracks of manyFILMS, performing the musical scores of such classics as David Lean's film version of Oliver Twist (1948). More recently, Esa-Pekka Salonen has conducted several commercial recordings with the Philharmonia, including music of Berlioz and of Schoenberg.