The Polish Radio Orchestra in Warsaw has a history dating back to 1934. In order to provide music for most of the broadcast time, the Polish Radio managers followed other European radio broadcasters in establishing their own choirs and music ensembles, the most important of which was the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Warsaw, founded in 1934 by Grzegorz Fitelberg.
The key principle of the Orchestra’s music programming was to reflect musical culture in all its dimensions: symphonic classics, stage music, and the most recent works. Exchange with foreign broadcasters meant that the Orchestra played a major role in the international promotion of Polish music. The Polish Radio Orchestra was re-activated in 1945, following the ravages of WWII, by violinist and conductor Stefan Rachoń, for the purpose of performing in concert, as well as recording extensively, also for Polish Television. For thirty years, popular and entertainment music formed the bulk of the Orchestra’s repertoire.
Major changes in the Orchestra’s profile came in the mid-1970s, when its director Włodzimierz Kamirski (1976–1980) began consistently to introduce new repertoire, aiming to transform the ensemble into a symphony orchestra. This task was continued by Jan Pruszak (1980–1988) and Mieczysław Nowakowski (1988–1990).
From 1990, during the tenure of Tadeusz Strugała (1990–1993) the ensemble – renamed as the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra – began rehearsing and performing at its new seat – the Witold Lutosławski Concert Studio of Polish Radio.
In the more favourable working conditions and having attained higher artistic standards, the orchestra began to tour abroad (under Wojciech Rajski, its artistic director in 1993–2006), giving successful performances in France, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Austria, Spain, Germany, and Latvia. The Orchestra’s critically acclaimed concerts helped to popularise Polish music in all those places.
Under the tenure of Łukasz Borowicz (2007–2015), it became a tradition to open new artistic seasons with concert performances of unknown or forgotten Polish operas, which included: Statkowski’s Maria, Moniuszko’s Flis (The Raftsman) and Verbum nobile, Dobrzyński’s Monbar, or The Filibusters, and Noskowski’s Revenge for the Boundary Wall.
In 2015 Michał Klauza was appointed artistic director of the Orchestra. The ensemble’s professional development and programming policy were largely determined by Polish Radio’s fundamental mission of presenting Polish music, which became the staple of its repertoire. As in the previous years, the Orchestra continued its tradition of giving concert performances of vocal-instrumental works by Polish composers. These performances were commissioned by the Polish Radio Channel Two: M.K. Ogiński’s opera Zelis et Valcour ou Bonaparte au Caire, F. Nowowiejski’s The Return of the Prodigal Son, K. Kurpiński’s The Charlatan, or the Raising of the Dead, and K. Szymanowski’s Hagith (followed by a CD release). Under Klauza, new titles in the Orchestra’s discography also included the world premiere release of Henryk Wars’s symphonic works (Maalot, City Sketches, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, as well as Symphony No. 1), performed from scores discovered by the composer’s widow Elżbieta Wars in the late 1990s.
In the course of its history, the Polish Radio Orchestra in Warsaw has been conducted, to great acclaim, by such masters as Jerzy Maksymiuk, Jacek Kaspszyk, Antoni Wit, Jan Krenz, Tadeusz Strugała, Jose Maria Florencio, Marek Moś, Paweł Przytocki, Andrzej Straszyński, Christian Vásquez, Mikhail Agrest, Daniel Raiskin, Jonathan Brett, Amos Talmon, Murad Annamamedov, Christoph Campestrini, Daniel Inbal, and Guillaume Touirniaire.
The Orchestra boasts the collaboration (in concert and in recording sessions) with such eminent soloists as, among others, Iwona Hossa, Izabella Kłosińska, Aleksandra Kurzak, Olga Pasichnyk, Anna Lubańska, Ewa Podleś, Jadwiga Rappé, Małgorzata Walewska, Piotr Beczała, Tomasz Konieczny, Mariusz Kwiecień, Artur Ruciński, Krzysztof and Kuba Jakowicz, Konstanty Andrzej Kulka, Bartosz Koziak, Rafał Kwiatkowski, Mariusz Patyra, Dominik Połoński, Tomasz Strahl, Łukasz Długosz, Rafał Blechacz, Charles Richard Hamelin, Krzysztof Jabłoński, Piotr Paleczny, Piotr Orzechowski, and Dang Thai Son.
In the last 30 years, the Orchestra’s list of responsibilities has been extended so as to include CD releases of Polish symphonic and operatic music. The releases have mostly been occasioned by major anniversaries; thus, for instance, in 2008/2009, Roman Statkowski’s Maria was revived and popularised. In the following years, the Orchestra released on CDs such forgotten masterpieces of European music as Szymon Laks’s L’Hirondelle inattendue (in the original French version) and Ignacy Feliks Dobrzyński’s opera Monbar, or The Filibusters (revived after 150 years). The album recorded with Dominik Połoński as soloist won the 2007 Fryderyk Award. For the birth centenary and the 40th death anniversary of Grażyna Bacewicz, her three violin concertos, overture, and the radio opera The Adventures of King Arthur were recorded and released. The Orchestra’s recordings of pieces by Andrzej Panufnik (under Łukasz Borowicz) came out on 4 CDs, winning the International Classical Music Award (ICMA) in January 2015.
The Polish Radio Orchestra in Warsaw also successfully performs popular and film music. It has given concerts and recorded with such bands as Perfect and De Mono, the vocalist Zbigniew Wodecki (his CD Zbigniew Wodecki Mitch&Mitch, recorded with the Orchestra, became a Golden Disc), as well as with Krzysztof Herdzin, Henryk Miśkiewicz, Janusz Stokłosa, and Michał Urbaniak. For the last several decades, the Orchestra has regularly appeared at the National Festival of Polish Song in Opole.
The Orchestra has frequently taken part in major festivals and competitions, such as: the Witold Lutosławski ‘Chain’ Festival, the International Festival ‘La Folle Journée’, the Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival, the Witold Lutosławski International Cello Competition, the final stage of the National Selections for the Eurovision Young Musicians annual contest, the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ International Festival of Contemporary Music, the Laboratory of Contemporary Music, the Warsaw Music Encounters, and the Festival of Oratorio Music ‘Musica Sacromontana’.
The Polish Radio Orchestra in Warsaw is at present the only artistic ensemble within the structures of the national broadcaster – Polish Radio S.A.