The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra has vaulted into the top rank of international symphonic ensembles with a strong commitment to contemporary music, a sequence of conductors from outside Norway, and a growing catalog of recordings. Yet this growth developed organically from the orchestra's longstanding roots.
The Philharmonic's history dates back to 1765, when Det Musicalske Selskab (The Musical Society) was founded. The group changed its name to Musikselskabet Harmonien (Harmony Music Society), and the Harmonien name is still sometimes used locally in Bergen; the Bergen Philharmonic name was adopted in 1986.
The group's orientation toward new music was already evident in Beethoven's day: his Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36, was performed by the orchestra prior to its Berlin premiere. Through the 19th century the Harmonien grew, and Edvard Grieg served as its chief conductor between 1880 and 1882. Another of several composers to lead the orchestra was Johan Halvorsen (from 1893 to 1898). The orchestra has naturally favored Scandinavian repertory, but became more international in orientation under Halvorsen.
The Philharmonic has recorded for BIS, Aurora, Hyperion, Simax, and Virgin Classics during this period, but its most extensive and widely distributed recordings have been made under Gardner for Chandos. The year 2017 alone saw three Bergen Philharmonic releases under Gardner, including a pair featuring music of Vaughan Williams and one devoted to Bartók, and one with ballet music of Tchaikovsky led by Neeme Järvi.