The Lucerne Festival Orchestra is generally regarded as the finest ad hoc orchestra in the world. Made up of members of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, as well as some of the leading soloists, chamber groups and orchestral principals in Europe, it assembles every August for the three weeks of festival activities. The LFO also goes on tour regularly and has appeared on many acclaimed recordings, available on such labels as EuroArts, DG, and EMI. The more distinguished members of the orchestra include clarinetist Sabine Meyer, violist Wolfram Christ, cellist Natalia Gutman, flutist Emmanuel Pahud, horn player Bruno Schneider, various members of the Berlin Philharmonic and Vienna Philharmonic orchestras, and the entire Leipzig String Quartet. During festival events the LFO performs at the KKL Luzern, Concert Hall.
Led in most concerts by conductor Claudio Abbado, the ensemble was founded in 2003 by him and the LFO's artistic and executive director Michael Haefliger. The LFO serves as the resident performing ensemble at the annual Lucerne Festival in Switzerland, held every August. Though its founding was relatively recent, the ensemble's roots go back to 1938 when Arturo Toscanini established an orchestra for the festival made up largely of Swiss musicians. It disbanded in 1993 and a second forerunner of the LFO followed shortly afterward, but also did not survive.
After his departure as conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 2002, Abbado, with the aid of Haefliger, was able to assemble a roster of renowned players for the festival's 2003 activities and has led them in performance every year since. Among the first recordings of the newly formed LFO was a 2004 DG two-disc set of Mahler's Second Symphony and Debussy's La Mer, derived from festival concerts given in 2003.
The orchestra soon began making tours to major concert venues, including in Rome and Tokyo. In October 2007 the LFO debuted at the London Proms and Carnegie Hall, but with an indisposed Abbado replaced by David Robertson and Pierre Boulez.
Highly successful tours to Beijing and Vienna followed, and the orchestra's reputation was in meteoric ascent. By 2009 more than a few prominent reviewers were calling the LFO the greatest orchestra in the world. Critically acclaimed concerts in Madrid and Paris in 2010 further bolstered its stock. Among later and more acclaimed recordings is the 2010 EuroArts DVD of the Mahler Symphony No. 1 and Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto, with soloist Yuja Wang.