Gothenburg (Göteborg), Sweden's second-largest city, is home to the oldest and most prestigious professional orchestra in the country. The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra's extensive schedule includes roughly 100 concerts in their home concert hall, international tours, recordings, and outreach programs for school children. The orchestra was named "Sweden's National Orchestra" in 1997 by the Swedish government.
The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1905 as an orchestral association, the Göteborgs Orkesterförening, with funding from local industries. The first concerts were given the same year under the baton of Heinrich Hammer. Composer Wilhelm Stenhammar was principal conductor from 1907 until 1922. Stenhammar was a firm leader and an innovator as a symphony director, with a gift for orchestra building and a wide-ranging interest in new repertory. Reasoning that children benefited from exposure to orchestral music, he was among the first conductors anywhere to establish regular school outreach concerts. This has resulted in symphony concerts becoming one of the favorite forms of musical entertainment in Gothenburg and the surrounding area. Stenhammar and the Gothenburg Symphony were the first to introduce the music of Danish composer Carl Nielsen to Sweden.
Stenhammar's successors as music director have included Tor Mann, Ture Rängstrom, Dean Dixon, Charles Dutoit, and Sixten Ehrling. Neeme Järvi served as principal conductor from 1982-2004, during which time the orchestra began a long association with the BIS record company, making both Järvi and the orchestra world-famous. Following Järvi as principal conductor were Mario Venzago from 2004-2007 and Gustavo Dudamel from 2007-2012. In 2017, Santtu-Matias Rouvali was named principal conductor, with a contract running through 2025. Since 1987, the orchestra has toured throughout Sweden, Europe, Asia, and the U.S., regularly performing in festivals in Sweden and abroad.
An early obstacle for the orchestra, the lack of a suitable concert hall, was remedied in 1935 with the opening of the Göteborgs Konserthus, a municipally financed hall. This hall is compared favorably with such venues as Boston's Orchestra Hall, Carnegie Hall, and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw as one of the best-sounding concert halls in the world. The richness and clarity of the sound is one of the factors that have set the high standards the Gothenburg Symphony has met.