The Prague Chamber Orchestra is the premier chamber ensemble in the Czech Republic. As is traditional in chamber orchestras, the ensemble performs without a conductor, and is generally lead by the concertmaster. Considerably larger than most chamber orchestras, the Prague Chamber Orchestra employs 36 players. It presents a series of subscription concerts each year in the Dvorák Hall of the House of Artists, which is also the home of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. The ensemble tours widely at home and abroad, and participates in many music festivals such as the Prague Spring Festival and the Bratislava Music Festival. The orchestra's repertoire focuses on Classical-era works by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven but also extends to some early Romantic pieces, and a substantial number of contemporary compositions. Most of its concerts include at least one work by a Czech composer. Many new works have been composed for or dedicated to the Prague Chamber Orchestra, and a number of these have had their premier performances with the ensemble. Known for its sweet and lyrical tonal quality, the Prague Chamber Orchestra is one of the most highly regarded chamber ensembles in Europe.
Established in 1951, the Prague Chamber Orchestra had its beginnings in the Czechoslovakia Radio Symphony Orchestra when a chamber group was formed from the symphony's members to record works that did not require the full orchestra. The ensemble's original repertoire was taken primarily from the Baroque and early Classical periods, with an emphasis on the old Czech masters such as Jan Dusek, Johann Stamitz, Anton Reicha, and the masters of Citoliby. The orchestra made its first recording in the year it was founded, and has continued to record extensively throughout its history.
As the orchestra's popularity grew and its public concerts began to overshadow its recording and broadcasting duties, the ensemble gradually separated from its parent organization. In 1955, the group gained the sponsorship of the National Museum and was allowed to use the museum's archive of musical scores. By 1964, administration of the orchestra was placed in the hands of the government Ministry of Culture. The orchestra began its work with young artists and students when it came under the management of the Music Studio of the Czech Music Fund in 1967. Instructive concerts were introduced and many gifted young soloists and composers have had the opportunity to work with this eminent chamber orchestra since the early 1970s. An 11-member string ensemble under the leadership of concertmaster Oldrich Vlcek, was established from within the Prague Chamber Orchestra in 1976. The Virtuosi di Praga, as it is named, tours and performs separately from the full ensemble, and sometimes acts as a virtuoso ensemble when needed for concerto works. Known for its sensitive interpretations of works by Czech composers from the Baroque to the Contemporary, the Prague Chamber Orchestra is truly worthy of its reputation as one of the finest chamber ensembles in Europe.