Arising during the period-instrument boom of the 1980s, Concerto Köln (or Concerto Cologne) has established itself among the elite historical-performance ensembles in the world. Concerto Köln is an independently funded and self-governing ensemble, allowing it the freedom to perform a wide range of music, which consists of standard and rare works, mostly from the Baroque and Classical eras. It has also founded an early music festival, the Cologne Festival of Early Music.
Concerto Köln was founded in 1985 by recent graduates of various European conservatories. It almost immediately began touring its Baroque and Classical repertory around Europe, frequently appearing at major music festivals. A self-governing organization, the ensemble receives no government subsidies. Its democratic notions extend to its lack of a permanent conductor; after first violinist Werner Ehrhardt, Martin Sandhoff was appointed artistic director in 2005, serving in the post until 2015. He was succeeded by Alexander Scherf.
In 1992, in collaboration with Deutschland Radio, the group founded the Cologne Festival of Early Music; each year, the festival focuses on the instrumental works and operas of a specific composer, including such neglected figures as Alfredo Kraus, Johann Baptist Vanhal, and Pietro Locatelli. Members often go their separate ways as chamber musicians, but the group also brings in diverse collaborators, including a Turkish ensemble for a tour and recording fusing such 18th century pseudo-Turkish pieces as Mozart's "Overture to the Abduction" from Seraglio with the authentic folk music that inspired it. In its concerts and recordings, the group has partnered with many leading artists, including Cecilia Bartoli, Vivica Genaux, and Arsys Bourgogne. A prolific research and performance collaboration with conductor Kent Nagano began in 2011, which, along with concerts and recordings, bore a new project in 2017, the "Wagner Readings." The project is centered on exploring a historical performance reading of Wagner's Ring Cycle, with a complete performance beginning in 2021. In 2019, Nagano was named honorary conductor by Concerto Köln.