It was back in 1962 that the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation decided to establish a permanent orchestral body, which initially consisted of only twelve pieces (chords and continuo group), originally designated as Gulbenkian Chamber Orchestra. This collective was successively enlarged up to the point where today the Orquestra Gulbenkian (the name it has adopted since 1971) counts upon a permanent body of sixty six instrumentalists which can be expanded here and there in accordance with the needs of the programmes at hand.
This structure allows Orquestra Gulbenkian to interpret a wide repertoire which spans all of the Classical period, a significant part of 19th century orchestral literature and much of the music of the 20th century. Works belonging to the current repertoire of the grand traditional symphonic orchestras, namely Haydn’s, Mozart’s, Beethoven’s, Schubert’s, Mendelssohn’s or Schumann’s orchestral productions, can thus be delivered by Orquestra Gulbenkian in versions that are closer to the orchestrations they originally were conceived for as far as the balance of their internal sonic architecture is concerned. In each season the orchestra executes a regular series of concerts at the Gulbenkian Grand Auditorium in Lisbon. There it has had the opportunity of working together with some of the biggest names in the world of music (conductors and soloists). It has also performed on numerous locations all over Portugal, which has allowed it to contribute to decentralizing culture.
The orchestra has been gradually expanding his activities in the international level, performing in Europe, Asia Africa and the Americas. More recently Orquestra Gulbenkian made another appearance in the Enescu Festival (13 September 2011) and visited Armenia for the first time, giving two concerts in Yerevan (15 and 16 September 2011), in both cases under the direction of Maestro Lawrence Foster. In July 2013 performed in the Kissingen Sömmer Festival (Germany) with maestro Lawrence Foster and in October made a tour in China with concerts in Macao, Canton and Beijing, under the direction of Paul McCreesh.
In the recording level, the name of Orquestra Gulbenkian is associated to labels as Philips, Deutsche Grammophon , Hyperion, Teldec, Erato , Adès, Nimbus, Lyrinx, Naïve and Pentatone, among others, and this activity has been recognized with several prestigious international prizes.
Among recent discographic projects should be mentioned the first world recording of Salieri’s Requiem, a recording with works by Ligeti, Kodály and Bartók, and a new collaboration with the pianist Sa Chen released in 2012 and more recently a recording with violinist Arabella Steinbacher released already in 2013, all of them under the direction of Maestro Lawrence Foster and for Pentatone. Orquestra Gulbenkian recorded a CD dedicated to the young public – Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals and Britten’s Guide to the Orchestra -, under the direction of Joana Carneiro, released in 2011. As part of the commemorations of its 50th anniversary the Orquestra Gulbenkian recorded three CD’s featuring soloists from the orchestra, under the direction of Lawrence Foster, Joana Carneiro and Pedro Neves. The commemorations that were celebrated throughout the season 2012-2013 included many other initiatives, including special concerts and an exhibition.
Lawrence Foster was responsible for the artistic direction of the ensemble between seasons 2002/2003 and 2012-2013, of which he was also its Principal Conductor. Claudio Scimone, which occupied this position between 1979 and 1986, was nominated in 1987 its Honorary Conductor. Joana Carneiro holds the position of Guest Conductor of the orchestra since the season 2006-2007 and Susanna Mälkki was appointed its Principal Guest Conductor beginning in 2013-2014. Paul McCreesh was appointed Principal Conductor of Orquestra Gulbenkian beginning in 2013-2014.