The Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia was the first in Italy to devote itself exclusively to the symphonic repertoire, promoting the premieres of important 20th century masterworks.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, the Orchestra has performed about 14,000 concerts, collaborating with the major musical figures of the epoch. It has been conducted by Mahler, Debussy, Strauss, Stravinsky, Hindemith, Toscanini, Furtwängler, De Sabata and Karajan, among others. . Its permanent conductors have been Bernardino Molinari, Franco Ferrara, Fernando Previtali, Igor Markevitch, Thomas Schippers, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Daniele Gatti and Myung-Whun Chung. From 1983 to 1990, Leonard Bernstein was its Honorary President. In October 2005 Antonio Pappano took the helm as the Orchestra’s new Music Director.
Among the Orchestra’s most noteworthy engagements are appearances at the 1995 celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the Proms (the first Italian orchestra ever invited to the prestigious London festival), to which it returned in 2007 with Antonio Pappano conducting. With Myung-Whun Chung (principal conductor from 1997 to 2005) the Orchestra performed in Spain, Portugal and Belgium and undertook numerous tours of the Far East. Besides annual engagements with the most important Italian music festivals, in 2001 it was the first Italian orchestra to appear as a guest in Philharmonic Hall in Berlin – the historic home of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 2003 the Orchestra participated in celebrations for the re-opening of Teatro La Fenice in Venice, in 2004 it triumphed at the Cologne Triennale and in 2005 it returned to the White Nights Festival in Saint Petersburg.
During the 2005-06 season it performed in Madrid with Rostropovich, in Budapest, at the Palau de la Musica in Barcelona and at the Dresden Semperoper (the Stabat Mater by Rossini, conducted by Pappano). The 2006-07 season opened with the resounding successes garnered by Maestro Pappano and the Orchestra at Teatro La Fenice in Venice and at La Scala (after a 50-year absence from the Milanese theater). In March 2007 the Orchestra, with Pappano on the podium, toured Germany, Switzerland and Austria, making stops in impressive venues such as the Vienna Musikverein where they received heartfelt ovations and glowing reviews. In summer 2007 the Orchestra earned additional raves during tours to Japan and Moscow. In February 2008, on the occasion of its first centennial, the Orchestra toured Italy (appearing in Perugia, Parma, Ferrara and Torino), performing its 1908 debut program.
After a long collaboration with Decca which produced memorable historic recordings, followed by a lengthy hiatus, the Orchestra has been recording intensively in recent years. Among its latest recordings, which have garnered impressive recognition (the Diapason d’Or Award and a Grammy nomination) especially noteworthy are a series of CDs conducted by Maestro Chung devoted to sacred music, on the occasion of the Jubilee Year.
In 2007, the Orchestra released two all-Tchaikovsky CDs on the EMI label (Overtures & Fantasies and the last three symphonies by the great Russian composer), a CD with cellist Han-Na Chang entitled Romance, and the Roman Trilogy by Ottorino Respighi, all under the direction of Antonio Pappano. In 2008 the Orchestra recorded Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly (for the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth). Its “live” recording of the Verdi Requiem was released in September 2009.
On 2 October 2009 Antonio Pappano and the Accademia di Santa Cecilia Orchestra’s recording of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly won a Classic FM Gramophone Award in the opera category.
This year has brought the Orchestra even wider recognition; it was recently voted one of the top 10 orchestras in the world by the UK’s Classic FM Magazine.