One of Bulgaria's top orchestral ensembles, the Sofia Philharmonic has extended its reach under music director Nayden Todorov, making well-received international tours and recording for labels beyond Bulgaria. The orchestra has also become known for its collaborations with popular musicians.
Bulgaria's first professional symphony orchestra, the Sofia Philharmonic was founded in 1928 as the Academic Symphony Orchestra; its organizer and first conductor was violinist and educator Sasha Popov. It was renamed the Tsar's Military Symphony Orchestra (Bulgaria had a Tsar until 1946), the National Philharmonic Orchestra, and finally, in 1949, the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra. That name refers both to an orchestra, also still known as the National Philharmonic Orchestra, and to a group of associated ensembles, including the National Philharmonic Choir, the Sofia and Quarto Quartets, and the Bella Voce and Impresia small vocal ensembles. All these groups perform at Sofia's Bulgaria Concert Complex, which includes concert halls of various sizes as well as an art gallery. Recent conductors of the Sofia Philharmonic have included Yulian Kovachev, Martin Panteleev (beginning in 2011), and Nayden Todorov (beginning in 2017). Guest collaborators with the orchestra have been of international caliber, including violinists Joshua Bell and Shlomo Mintz, and a range of vocal soloists that includes Plácido Domingo. Especially under Todorov the orchestra has toured widely, including a stop at the prestigious Musikverein in Vienna as well as tours all over Europe and the U.S. A notable feature of the orchestra's activities has been its work with pop artists; it has accompanied, among others, Sting and Robin Gibb, as well as "Star Wars: A New Hope," a concert tour of China organized by Disney Studios.
The Sofia Philharmonic has recorded for various Bulgarian labels and also for the Austrian label, Capriccio. In the 2010s, it recorded for Red Bus Classical and Timpani, moving to Naxos in 2020 for a recording of the Johann Strauss II operetta Blindekuh. The group has received numerous awards, including the Honorary Sign of the President of Bulgaria.