The SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra (in German: Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR) emerged under American military rule after World War II and developed into a major force in contemporary music.
The orchestra ceased to exist in 2016 when it was merged into the new SWR Symphony Orchestra.
The SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra was formed in 1945 as the Symphony Orchestra of Radio Stuttgart (Sinfonieorchester von Radio Stuttgart) as the American military government reopened Radio Stuttgart and established a live orchestra for its broadcasts. The radio station soon became South German Radio, or Süddeutsche Rundfunk, and the orchestra was renamed Sinfonieorchester des Süddeutschen Rundfunks. In 1959, the orchestra became the Südfunk-Sinfonieorchester, and in 1975, it took its current name, with SWR standing for Südwestrundfunk, or Southwest Radio. From the beginning, the orchestra attracted top German musicians eager to get back to music-making, and leading conductors and soloists signed on for guest slots, quickly raising the group's profile beyond the region. In 1948, Hans Müller-Kray became the group's first permanent conductor and its only German one; his successors were Sergiu Celibidache (1971-1977, who raised the orchestra's international profile), Neville Marriner (1983-1989), Gianluigi Gelmetti (1989-1998), Roger Norrington (1998-2011), and Stéphane Denève (2011-2016). In addition to radio broadcasts, the orchestra performed some 80 concerts a year in Stuttgart and around the radio network's coverage area. It performed traditional repertory but soon established itself as a promoter of contemporary music, with a long list of contemporary composers including Pierre Boulez, Hans-Werner Henze, and Krzysztof Penderecki conducting the group in their own works. In 2012, the SWR's governing council approved a proposal to merge the SWR Stuttgart Symphony Orchestra and the Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra into a new SWR Sinfonieorchester (SWR Symphony Orchestra). Despite international protests, the merger was implemented, and Norrington conducted the orchestra's final performance at the BBC Proms in 2016.
The SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra had a distinguished recording career that included at least 75 releases covering a wide variety of repertory and winning several major industry awards. Many were recorded for the Hänssler Classic label. The orchestra's catalog of recordings continued to grow after its dissolution as the SWR Music house label reissued some of its classic performances. In 2020, that label issued the orchestra's complete recordings of Beethoven's symphonies, recorded in 2002.