In 1958, violinist Neville Marriner invited a dozen of his colleagues to form an ensemble that would focus on playing Baroque music. Taking the meaning of ensemble playing to heart, the group decided to work without a conductor, as did many chamber orchestras of the Baroque period. In this cooperative spirit, the ensemble worked toward the brilliantly energetic sound and high standard of musicianship that have become its hallmarks.
Unable to generate sufficient interest in concerts, the ensemble sought recognition in the recording studio; the L'Oiseau Lyre Company gave the Academy its first recording contract in 1961. Other contracts soon followed, including a five-year contract with Argo in 1965. In addition, the ensemble became popular in other venues with appearances on the BBC Proms program and in performances for BBC television films. An association with Philips, which began in 1971, set the ensemble on a course toward its establishment as a world-class orchestra.
Incorporated in 1970 under the management of Marriner, who reluctantly took on the role of conductor, and four other founding members, the Academy rapidly developed into a highly popular ensemble. With no permanent concert venue of its own, the Academy toured widely between short seasons at the Royal Festival Hall and the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields; a tradition that has continued throughout the history of the group. The ensemble also expanded its repertoire to include music from the Baroque to the present day, often lead from the concertmaster's chair by Neville Marriner, Iona Brown, and Kenneth Sillito, and Joshua Bell, who was named music director in 2012. A second group, the Chamber Ensemble, was originally formed in 1967 for the specific purpose of performing large-scale string chamber music. Another milestone in the Academy's history, in 1975, was the formation of the Chorus of the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields under the direction of Laszlo Heltay. Initially created to perform Bach's B minor Mass on an Academy tour, the Chorus became a regular addition to the ensemble.
Between concert tours, the ensemble has recorded a wide variety of works including symphony cycles of Schubert and Beethoven. It is estimated that an average of 30 minutes of the Academy's work is broadcast on each classical music radio station in the U.S. every day of the year. Perhaps the best known of its 500+ recordings are a 1969 version of Vivaldi's Four Seasons and the soundtrack to the 1984 film Amadeus.
Throughout its long and illustrious history, the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields has upheld a consistently high standard of virtuosity and ensemble playing. This group, with its broad repertoire and structural flexibility continues to be one of the most distinguished and sought-after ensembles in the world of classical music.