1805 to the present
Luzerner Sinfonieorchester around 1939
Chief Conductor Max Sturzenegger

At its very first performances back in 1806, the orchestra consisted of a handful of music lovers who brought their full enthusiasm to the works of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Concerts were well attended, and anyone living in Lucerne at the time would put on their best garb before heading to the Comödiensaal der Jesuiten, as the concert hall was called at the time. While this was some 210 years ago, the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra has since grown and established itself continuously and is known as the oldest orchestra in Switzerland today.

While its early performances may well have sounded rather outlandish to the modern ear, anyone attending a concert in Lucerne today is bound to hear Haydn at his classical best – performed by an authentic, reduced orchestra with eight first violins, eight second violins, four violas, four cellos, and two double basses. Rather than being dominated by elderly gentlemen, the orchestra is now a young and diversified body that can often be heard delving into contemporary works, possibly with timpani and trumpets. At other times, it performs with young or established soloists, accompanying them with due sensitivity through brilliantly forceful or tenderly calm passages. And anyone wondering at the distinct sound, perhaps in Baroque style, resonating from the orchestra pit at the Luzerner Theater will be pleased to know that this, too, is the Luzerner Sinfonieorchester in another form.

While many orchestras, especially those elsewhere in Switzerland, may worry about their survival, the Luzerner Sinfonieorchester continues on its growth trajectory. Moreover, the new auditorium at the KKL has energised musicians, conductor and administration alike to pursue their artistic endeavours with a distinct creative verve – and audiences are paying close attention in every respect. It is becoming increasingly clear that alongside the Lucerne Festival, the Luzerner Sinfonieorchester is now a driving force in the city’s musical scene that is here to stay.

– Peter Hagmann, music critic of Neue Zürcher Zeitung (2009)

What started out as the city's music society with some two dozen amateur players has since grown into a remarkable ensemble of around seventy seasoned professionals, led by a young and ambitious conductor, all eager to tackle even the most challenging works of the repertoire. By now the orchestra has built a reputation far beyond the Lucerne region, be it through exquisite CD recordings, guest appearances or tours in Europe and abroad.

Luzerner Sinfonieorchester 2017
Chief conductor: James Gaffigan

Chief conductors

  • Willem Mengelberg (1892–1895)
  • Max Sturzenegger (1939–1960)
  • Ulrich Meyer-Schoellkopf (1972–1990)
  • Marcello Viotti (1987–1992)
  • Olaf Henzold (1992–1997)
  • Jonathan Nott (1997–2002)
  • Christian Arming (2002–2004)
  • John Axelrod (2004–2009)
  • James Gaffigan (since 2011)
  • Michael Sanderling (designated chief conductor 2021)