In the last fifteen years of the twentieth century, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Flanders (Het Koninklijk Filharmonische Orkest van Vlaanderen) began a rapid rise to attention among European symphonic ensembles.
The Orchestra is based in Antwerp (in Flemish Antwerpen; in French Anvers), a leading city of Flanders, the Dutch-speaking portion (Flemish) of Belgium. Antwerp had a long and rich musical history as a center of the Netherlands school of polyphony in the Renaissance and a major center of church music through the Baroque and Classical eras.
As the region was under the domination of France at the end of the eighteenth century, the anti-clerical aspect of the French Revolution ended the domination of the Church in Antwerp's music. It became a center for musical education with the founding of the Royal Flemish Conservatory and an operatic center beginning in 1893 when the Flanders Opera was formed. (It is now known as the Royal Flemish Opera.)
For the most part, orchestral music was the province of various private organizations who brought in guest ensembles. This was the original activity of the Philharmonic organization as well. Founded in 1955, it did not organize its own full-sized orchestra until 1985, but did have a smaller organization that gave concerts primarily of standard romantic repertory.
The building of a fine concert venue, the Queen Elisabeth Hall, in Antwerp was an impetus for founding a full-sized professional orchestra in 1985. At the same time, the Philharmonic made a policy decision to include more twentieth-century music in its programs and to contribute to the future repertory of music by promoting the newest orchestral music.
In 1997, Philippe Herreweghe was named as the orchestra's Music Director, commencing in September 1998. Herreweghe, known primarily until then for his activities in the field of authentic or period instrument performances, surprised audiences with a powerful series of Bruckner symphony concerts in his first season. He also chose his assistant conductors with deliberation. While Herreweghe centers on music up to the late 1800s, Michaël Schönwand specializes in late Romantic music and its transition into the twentieth century, including the masterpieces of the early part of the century. Peter Rundel concentrates mainly on contemporary music.
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Flanders gives concerts in three Antwerp venues, adding the Singel and Bourla theaters to the Queen Elisabeth Hall. It also frequently travels out to Brussels and Ghent and tours in Europe regularly. It has visited all major European concert halls, including the Musikverein and Konzerthaus of Vienna, the Salzburg Festspielhaus , London's Royal Festival Hall, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the Munich Philharmonie, Frankfurt's Alte Oper, and the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris. It has also made a successful concert tour of Japan.
The orchestra is becoming busy in the recording studio. It has recorded music of its resident composers Llewelyn and Kancheli and such Flemish composers as August De Boeck, Peter Benoit, Jef Maes, Luc Brewaeyes, Wim Henderickx, and Karel Goeyvaerts on the ECM, Megadisc, Naxos, Cypres, Wergo, and Verdi record labels.