On November 25, 1781 the Concert Society from which the Gewandhaus Orchestra emerged, which was already founded in 1743, presented the inaugural concert at the newly-established concert hall at the Gewandhaus. In 1884 the second Gewandhaus, a grand concert building in Leipzig’s “music quarter”, was inaugurated, but heavily damaged in World War II. After almost four decades at various interim venues, since 1981 the Gewandhaus Orchestras has found a home at the third Gewandhaus on Augustusplatz, a renowned concert hall with an international reputation.
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, music director from 1835 to 1847, presided over one of the heydays of the Gewandhaus, but Robert and Clara Schumann also presented concerts at the first Gewandhaus; Mozart, Weber, Berlioz, Liszt and many others gave guest performances. Max Reger was involved in many concerts as the “house pianist” at the second Gewandhaus, where Anton Bruckner played the organ and Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Stravinsky and Richard Strauss presented their own works – to name just a few. The question which composers might be missing from the Gewandhaus history would be quicker to answer! Today the Gewandhaus regularly appoints “Gewandhaus composers” whose music becomes a programming focus and who write new works for the orchestra. Since 2020 Sofia Gubaidulina has held this title.
For 240 years at all the Gewandhäuser, for exactly 40 years at our third Gewandhaus.
Several works by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy and Robert Schumann had their first performance at the Gewandhaus, but further examples include Schubert’s Great Symphony in C-major, Wagner’s Meistersinger Overture, Brahms’ Violin Concerto and Deutsches Requiem, Reger’s Piano and Violin Concertos and, in more recent times, music by Hans Werner Henze, Wolfgang Rihm and Jörg Widmann. Beethoven’s works occupy a special position: his symphonies were played at the Gewandhaus immediately following their Vienna world premieres and were also performed for the first time as a cycle here; works such as the Triple Concerto and Piano Concerto No. 5 were first performed in public at the Gewandhaus. There are similar traditions of complete performance cycles in the chamber music genre, kept alive by the Gewandhaus Quartet founded in 1809 and further chamber formations of Gewandhaus musicians. During the 19th century, the Gewandhaus programming was emulated throughout the musical world.
The second Gewandhaus became a template for other concert hall buildings. The main auditorium of the third Gewandhaus is one of the world’s best concert halls, not least due to its phenomenal acoustics. Above the console of the sumptuous Schuke Organ, the orchestra’s motto can be found: RES SEVERA VERUM GAUDIUM, which has graced the Gewandhäuser since the 18th century. The proverb by Seneca could be translated as “True enjoyment is a serious undertaking”.
The glass façade onto Augustusplatz allows a view of Sighard Gille’s monumental ceiling fresco Song of Life; the foyers hold numerous further works of art.
The Gewandhaus in Leipzig is home to great musical diversity. The Gewandhaus Orchestra presents a broad repertoire ranging from the 18th to the 21st century with different thematic focuses each season under its current chief conductor Andris Nelsons, its conductor laureate Herbert Blomstedt and selected guest conductors. The classical core repertoire – with particular devotion to Leipzig’s romantic era – is regularly complemented with cycles dedicated to Bruckner and Brahms, Weinberg and Shostakovich, Strauss and Mahler. Championing new music is another important element, one inscribed in the Gewandhaus’ tradition as a place for world premieres. Furthermore, the Gewandhaus Orchestra performs at St. Thomas’ Church and at the Opera, undertakes tours of the world and has a close partnership with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Current concert life at the Gewandhaus benefits from important contributions from the Gewandhaus choruses, chamber ensembles and organist. A comprehensive music education programme has been designed for different target and age groups, carrying music from the Gewandhaus to all parts of the city. Music students are trained as part of the Mendelssohn Orchestra Academy. In addition to the weekly concerts of the Gewandhaus Orchestra and the series of musica nova, chamber, piano, organ, vocal and entertaining music, joint projects with artists from the independent scene enrich its programming. Audiences are also welcome to the Gewandhaus for guest concerts of various genres, rental events, festivals, guided tours and many other formats.