The Royal Northern Sinfonia was founded in 1958 by Michael Hall, who served as the ensemble's conductor and artistic director, though he never officially held either title. The inaugural concert was given on September 24, 1958, at the Newcastle City Hall, which would serve as the orchestra's regular performance venue until 2004. Initially known only as the Sinfonia Orchestra, the ensemble was renamed the Northern Sinfonia in 1959.
Among Hall's accomplishments was the founding of a youth orchestra, originally called the Junior Philharmonic but now known as the Young Sinfonia. Hall was succeeded by Rudolf Schwarz, who served as artistic director from 1964 until 1973. Despite his title, he shared conducting duties of regular concerts with Boris Brott. The Northern Sinfonia Chorus was established in 1973 by the ensemble's principal timpanist, Alan Fearon.
By the time of Christopher Seaman's tenure (1973 to 1979), the Northern Sinfonia was gaining notice abroad. Among its first successful recordings were a 1976 EMI LP, The Lighter Elgar, led by Neville Marriner, and a 1977 Enigma Records LP of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 4, 5, and 6, led by George Malcolm.
Tamás Vasáry and Iván Fischer co-directed the Northern Sinfonia from 1979 until 1982, but it was during and immediately following the tenure of Richard Hickox (1982 to 1990) that the ensemble moved into the international limelight. Hickox would make over 20 recordings with the Northern Sinfonia, many after he departed. Among his more notable recorded efforts was the 1993 Chandos CD of Walton's opera The Bear. Heinrich Schiff served as artistic director from 1990 until 1996. Primarily a cellist, Schiff achieved critical acclaim with the Northern Sinfonia both in concert and on recordings. In the latter realm, the 1993 release Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 29 and 40 and Eine kleine Nachtmusik on Virgin Classics was a notable success.
Jean-Bernard Pommier's tenure (1996 to 1999) was noteworthy for acclaimed performances of works by French composers like Fauré, Debussy, and Ravel. Thomas Zehetmair served as music director from 2002 until 2014. Among Zehetmair's more notable recordings with the Northern Sinfonia is the 2011 Avie recording of Schubert's Ninth Symphony and Hans Gál's Second Symphony.
In 2004, the ensemble relocated to Gateshead, making the newly constructed Sage Gateshead Centre its home venue. Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the title "Royal" on the orchestra in 2013, making it the Royal Northern Sinfonia, and Lars Vogt became its music director beginning in 2015. That year, Zehetmair was named the orchestra's conductor laureate, and it named Julian Rachlin as its principal guest conductor. Vogt served as music director until 2020, when he was given the title of principal artistic partner. Following several guest conducting appearances in 2020, Dinis Sousa was appointed the Royal Northern Sinfonia's principal conductor in 2021. ~ Robert Cummings, Rovi
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