Founded in 1901 by a group of Polish business leaders and musicians, the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra has survived through the tumultuous changes that have beset its city and its homeland, emerging changed but with its essential values intact.
The soloist in the first concert was Paderewski, Poland's future prime minister, and the orchestra was installed in a splendid hall influenced by the design of the Paris Opéra. Until 1939 that hall was one of Poland's cultural centers, and the orchestra, under first conductor Emil Mlynarski and his successors, played host to soloists like Pablo Casals and Jascha Heifetz. The orchestra performed at the first Chopin International Piano Competition, in 1927, and has continued to be closely associated with that event.
During World War II the orchestra's building was destroyed, and half of its members were killed. Continuity was maintained by a series of music directors, and the Philharmonic returned to regular concertizing in the 1947-1948 season, an impressive feat considering the devastation of Poland at the time. It was longtime director Witold Rowicki, who served from 1950 to 1955 and again from 1958 to 1977, who gave the orchestra its modern-day configuration of 112 musicians, with an associated choir of 100. Another longtime music director was Kazimierz Kord (1977-2001). The original Viennese Secession-style hall was rebuilt and reopened in 1955, at which time the Warsaw Philharmonic was designated Poland's national orchestra.
Under the music directorship of Antoni Wit (2001-2013) and then Jacek Kaspszyk, the Philharmonic has maintained its world-class status while branching out into new activities. The orchestra has toured on five continents and has often participated in the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music as well as the Chopin International Competition. Under Wit's leadership the Philharmonic has recorded a variety of neglected Polish music for the Naxos label. More unusually, the orchestra has recorded music for anime series, including Cowboy Bebop and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, as well as video and role-playing games such as Final Fantasy XIII.