The Orchestre National de Lyon was founded in 1905 by Georges Martin Witkowski, as the Société des Grands Concerts de Lyon. The orchestra is proud of an illustrious past to which great musicians such as André Cluytens, Charles Munch, Paul Paray and Pierre Monteux have contributed.
In 1969, following an initiative by the Lyon authorities and on the occasion of the establishment of regional orchestras by Marcel Landowski, it became a permanent orchestra with 102 musicians under the name “Orchestre philharmonique Rhône-Alpes”, with Louis Frémaux as its first Music Director. The orchestra was, from that date on, managed and supported by the City of Lyon. In 1983, the orchestra became the Orchestre National de Lyon, the same year that Lyon Opera founded their own orchestra.
In 1975, the orchestra’s own concert hall - Auditorium Maurice-Ravel – was opened in Lyon, funded by the City of Lyon. It is one of the largest concert halls in France, with more than 2,000 seats, and it boasts remarkable acoustics.
The French conductor Serge Baudo became the ONL’s Music Director in 1971 and until 1986, he made the orchestra a musical force to be reckoned with, both at home and abroad. Under the Music Directorship of Emmanuel Krivine (1987-2000), the orchestra continued to increase in artistic stature and received considerable international critical acclaim. David Robertson became Music Director in 2000 as well as Artistic Director of the Auditorium, and his arrival brought a very creative approach to programming and musical styles. He was succeeded by Jun Märkl (2005-2011) and he, in turn, was succeeded by Leonard Slatkin who arrived in September 2011 and continues as Music Director to this day.
The ONL has been intensely busy outside of Lyon. It tours regularly to Asia (particularly to Japan), to the USA and in Europe and has been invited to take part in the BBC Proms season in London, in the “Chorégies” in Orange and at the Philharmonie in Paris. Future touring plans include Japan, the USA and in Europe.
The ONL is proud to promote the music of living composers. It has welcomed great artists such as Luciano Berio and Krzysztof Penderecki, and it has given world or European premieres of works by Pierre Boulez, Steve Reich, Michael Jarrell, Thierry Escaich and Kaija Saariaho. In the current season, Mason Bates and Bruno Mantovani are the ONL’s associate composers.
The wealth of the ONL’s repertoire is reflected in a vast series of recordings which have regularly won important awards including Ravel’s Bolero in 1984 to Debussy’s complete orchestral works under the baton of Jun Märkl (Naxos) and a CD of works by Thierry Escaich released in 2011 (Universal). Leonard Slatkin leads two ambitious recording projects, the complete symphonic works of both Ravel and Berlioz (Naxos).
The ONL is a pioneer in community engagement and is the only French orchestra to have developed two annual orchestra projects for young musicians. It has developed ambitious projects for schools, lecture series, participatory concerts for families and other ground-breaking activities outside of the concert hall. It is also proud to offer heavily discounted tickets to young audience members.
As an institution of the City of Lyon, the Orchestre National de Lyon is funded by the French Ministry of Culture and the Rhône-Alpes Region.