A private concert organization, the Orchestra of Lamoureux Concerts has one of the longest histories and most honored names in the history of Parisian symphonic music. In the 1990s it began emerging from a period when its historical prestige far exceeded its present artistic merit.
Conductor Charles Lamoureux (1834-1899) was offered a contract by the Théätre du Château d'Eau to give weekly symphonic concerts. His orchestra, named the Société des Nouveaux-Concerts, gave its first performance on October 23, 1881. It had competitors: the Association Artistiques, founded by Colonne in 1874, and the Concert Populaires led by Jules Etienne Pasdeloup (1819-1887). When the Nouveaux-Concerts merged with a short-lived rival (Concerts de l'Opéra) in 1897 and took the name Concerts Lamoureux, the new name was only a ratification of what he had been called informally for years, and also honored its leader, who retired that year and gave his son-in-law the post of conductor.
After Lamoureux died in 1899, his musicians organized into a co-operative society to continue the orchestra. It remained an important force in French music, giving the premieres of both the Nocturnes (1900) and La Mer (1903) by Debussy, and numerous other new works. When World War I depleted its ranks, it temporarily merged with the Concerts Colonne (which had similarly perpetuated itself following Colonne's death).
Paris between the wars was a world center of new music. The Colonne and Lamoureux separated and the Concerts Pasdeloup was revived in 1920, each writing chapters in the busy musical history of that era. Paul Paray, Albert Wolff, and Eugène Bigot conducted the Lamoureux (and the other two, as well). A change in the way the symphony business in Paris was conducted was foreshadowed in 1937, when the government funded the National Orchestra of RTF (the French radio service) for broadcasting purposes. This evolution was stalled for a while by the German occupation of 1940-1944, which slowed concert life, but the Lamoureux survived. Jean Martinon and Igor Markevitch were among its chief conductors in the decades after the war, but the private orchestras declined in quality as the state-sponsored groups took the forefront of orchestral music. Competition got even worse when the Conservatorie Concerts were disbanded in 1968 to be replaced by the full-time professional Orchestre de Paris. This resulted in the decline of all three private concert series.
The 96 musicians of the Lamoureux Concert Orchestra began to rebuild their historic prestige. In 1993, after two guest appearances by virtually unknown conductor Yutaka Sado, the orchestra hired him as their chief conductor. Under his leadership the Lamoureux Orchestra began recording again and its first recording was a group of Jacques Ibert competitions on the Naxos label and then began a program to record many of the masterworks by Ravel and others that the orchestra had premiered.