In its 15 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 about 200 days each year. In 2013, the orchestra performs in 12 European countries as well as in Bahrain, Japan and Australia. The orchestra's oldest residence is in Ferrara, Italy, where the MCO has been a prominent figure on the concert scene since 1998. Since 2003, the orchestra resides at the LUCERNE FESTIVAL each summer, where it also forms the core of Claudio Abbado's LUCERNE FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA. With the MCO Academy and the education and outreach programme MCO Landings, the orchestra is increasingly involved in teaching and community work. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra is an official European Cultural Ambassador for the years 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 and began to pursue 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 also works with a carefully selected and maintained network of excellent musicians who join the orchestra according to the needs of each project. 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.
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: in 1998 at the age of 22, he was named Principal Guest Conductor; 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 accross Europe to experience music with all of their senses.
Other important collaborations have been with conductors such as Esa-Pekka Salonen, Pierre Boulez, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Sir Roger Norrington, Vladimir Jurowski, Tugan Sokiev, and Daniele Gatti, and with soloists including Martha Argerich, Mitsuko Uchida, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Janine Jansen, Kolja Blacher, Isabelle Faust, Jonas Kaufmann, and Rolando Villazón. The MCO has made 25 CD recordings, among them several award-winners. Most recently, in September 2012, Sony Classical released the first part of the "Beethoven Journey" with Leif Ove Andsnes and the Piano Concertos 1 & 3. In Spring 2013, the recording of George Benjamin's award-winning new opera Written on Skin was released, which the MCO premiered under the baton of the composer at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence 2012.
How was the Mahler Chamber Orchestra created? The ensemble was founded in 1997 by former members of the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester (GMJO) who wanted to continue playing together. With the support of Claudio Abbado, they established their own ensemble and began to shape their vision of a free and international orchestra playing at the highest standard of quality.
Who are the musicians of the MCO? The 45 core members of the MCO come from 20 different countries and live all over Europe. In addition to the fixed members, the MCO maintains a carefully selected network of outstanding musicians who join the ensemble for projects as needed. What is the meaning of the orchestra's name? The last name of the composer Gustav Mahler refers to the ensemble's roots in the GMJO. The term "chamber" refers less to the size of the ensemble than to the chamber music approach to orchestral playing shared by all MCO musicians. What repertoire does the MCO play? The orchestra’s core repertoire consists of symphonic and operatic works from the Viennese classical and early Romantic periods. However, its flexible structure allows the MCO to play a broad range of repertoire, from chamber music to large symphonies and operas; from baroque to contemporary, including world premieres of new works. Experimenting with repertoire, venues and concert formats is fundamental to the self-identity of the MCO.
How is the MCO organized? The orchestra is not part of any governmentally subsidized structure or entity, but is instead run by the orchestra board and orchestra management (which is located in Berlin) in close cooperation. The MCO is democratically organized and the members come together regularly for General Meetings, where all important matters are discussed and decisions are made collectively.
The musicians of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra perform regularly in various chamber music ensembles. Through chamber music, the musicians intensify the tight ensemble playing among alert and independent musical personalities that is fundamental to the orchestra as a whole. The small, flexible format is also particularly well suited to the kind of experimentation with repertoire, concert formats, and venues that is an essential part of the orchestra's identity. All MCO chamber music ensembles perform under the name "Mahler Chamber Soloists".
Mahler Chamber Soloists can be heard on the main stages of international concert halls and theatres as well as in open-air klezmer, club remixes with DJ, or at a museum with a programme to match the art on display. At the MCO's residence city of Ferrara, MCO Soloists have their own concert series at the Jazz Club Ferrara, and in Berlin the MCO's chamber music activities have led to regular collaborations with the cultural institution Radialsystem V and the dance company Sasha Waltz & Guests.
Mahler Chamber Soloists have embarked on chamber music tours in Italy and Germany, and twice in India. The first India tour in 2012 was combined with education and outreach activities, and the second visit in January 2013 was a co-production with the dance company Sasha Waltz & Guests.