In its 16 years of existence, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra (MCO) has developed into one of the most artistically interesting and successful ensembles on the international classical music scene. With extensive touring throughout the world and regular longer stays in its residences, the MCO is on the move all the year around. The orchestra has performed in 36 countries on four continents thus far, including its Iceland debut in summer 2014. The MCO has been orchestra in residence in the northern Italian city of Ferrara since 1998. Since 2003, the orchestra resides at LUCERNE FESTIVAL each summer, where it also forms the core of the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA founded by Claudio Abbado. With the MCO Academy and the education and outreach programme MCO Landings, the orchestra is involved in teaching and community work. The European Union appointed the Mahler Chamber Orchestra an official European Cultural Ambassador 2011-2013.
The MCO was founded in 1997 by former members of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra who wished to continue making music together. With support from Claudio Abbado, they created their own ensemble to fulfil their vision of an independent international orchestra that plays at the highest level. The ensemble had its breakthrough in the summer of 1998 with a production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” under the direction of Claudio Abbado at the opera festival in Aix-en-
Provence. The 45 core members of the MCO come from 20 different countries and live all over Europe. The orchestra’s central repertoire consists of symphonic works and operas of the Viennese classical and early Romantic periods. The ensemble’s flexible structure makes it possible for the MCO to perform a very wide range of repertoire, including everything from chamber music to large symphonies and operas, from baroque to world premieres of contemporary works. Experimenting with repertoire, venues and concert formats is fundamental to the identity of the MCO.
The orchestra’s name stems from the ensemble’s roots in the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra. The word “chamber” refers less to the ensemble’s size than to the chamber music approach that characterizes the MCO musicians’ style of ensemble playing. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra is not supported by a government funding structure, and it is financed primarily by concert revenues, with help from donations and sponsors. The MCO is managed cooperatively by orchestra management and orchestra board and decisions are made democratically with the participation of all members. The MCO’s management is located in Berlin.
Daniel Harding is, alongside founder Claudio Abbado, the conductor who has played the most significant role in the orchestra’s history: He has enjoyed a close relationship with the MCO since 1998, when he became Principal Guest Conductor at the age of 22. In 2003 the orchestra chose him as their Music Director, and in 2008 he became Principal Conductor. In summer 2011, the musicians voted unanimously to give Daniel Harding the permanent title of Conductor
Laureate. Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes is also a significant figure and became the orchestra's official Artistic Partner in 2012. Under the label “The Beethoven Journey”, Andsnes and the MCO carry out a Beethoven cycle in the years 2012-2015, with Andsnes leading the orchestra from the piano. Beethoven’s five piano concertos and the Choral Fantasy will be performed in more than 60 concerts in over 10 countries and will also be released by Sony Classical on CD. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra accompanies the cycle with the outreach project “Feel the Music” which invites hearing-impaired children across Europe to experience music with all of their senses. “Feel the Music” was honoured with the international music outreach prize “YEAH! Young EARopean Award” in September 2013.
Further significant artistic partnerships include the composer George Benjamin, the conductors Daniele Gatti, Andris Nelsons and Teodor Currentzis, and the soloists Martha Argerich, Mitsuko Uchida, and Isabelle Faust. The MCO has made 28 CD recordings, among them several award-winners. In 2013 the recording of George Benjamin’s opera „Written on Skin“ was released; the piece was premiered by the MCO at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence in 2012 under the direction of the composer and honoured with the International Opera Award 2013. In September 2014, Sony Classical released the third album of the Beethoven cycle with Leif Ove Andsnes as soloist and conductor, featuring Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no.5 and the Choral Fantasy.