While the Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra has the distinction of being the oldest radio orchestra in Germany, it is, more importantly, among the finer German orchestras. Known in Germany for years as the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Leipzig, it is now called the MDR Symphony Orchestra, although in the U.S. and elsewhere it is still known by its older Leipzig RSO moniker, especially on recordings. Speaking of recordings, the orchestra has made hundreds over the years, with countless titles sprinkling the catalogs of Berlin Classics, Preiser, Philips, Ondine, Brilliant Classics, and many other labels. Such iconic conductors as Carl Schuricht, Hermann Abendroth, Herbert Kegel, Max Pommer, and Fabio Luisi have led the Leipzig RSO both on recordings and in concert.
The Leipzig RSO gave its first concert on January 6, 1923. It was then known as the Leipzig Symphony Orchestra and consisted of just 44 musicians. Its first music director was Alfred Szendrai, who served from 1924 to 1931. The orchestra gave its first broadcast concert under Szendrai's baton on November 23, 1924. Three conductors -- Carl Schuricht (1931-1933), Hans Weisbach (1934-1939), and Reinhold Merten (1939-1940) -- led the orchestra until a four-year cessation was imposed in 1941 because of the war.
The Leipzig RSO resumed concertizing in 1945, with only 12 members returning from the 1941 ensemble. The new conductor was Heinrich Schachtebeck, whose tenure ended later that year. Fritz Schroeder (1945-1946) and Gerhart Wiesenhütter (1946-48) also had short stints at the helm.
Among the orchestra's best-known conductors was Hermann Abendroth, who, with Gerhard Pflüger, led the orchestra from 1949-1956. Abendroth made a number of famous recordings with the Leipzig RSO, including acclaimed efforts of the Bruckner Eighth and Ninth symphonies.
From 1978 Wolf-Dieter Hauschild (1978-1985) led the Leipzig RSO in its first concerts from the new Gewandhaus concert hall in Leipzig. Max Pommer (1987-1991) presided over the orchestra during the German reunification, the time when the ensemble adopted the name MDR Symphony Orchestra. Daniel Nazareth (1992-1996) succeeded him and from 1996-1999 the orchestra was led by a triumvirate: Fabio Luisi, Marcello Viotti, and Manfred Honeck. Luisi was then appointed sole music director in 1999. Jun Märkl succeeded Luisi in 2007.