The National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland is the concert music orchestra of Radio Television Ireland. Considered one of Europe's major symphonies it is the primary symphony orchestra of Dublin and, true to its name, the leading orchestra of the Irish Republic.
British ascendancy in Ireland put concert music in the hands of the wealthy, primarily English, ruling class, which followed London's tastes. Tellingly, the major musical event in Irish classical music history is the premiere performance of Handel's Messiah. Concerts were put together mostly by an ever-shifting group of charitable societies. The first effort to found a permanent symphony orchestra in Dublin did not occur until 1899, when Michele Esposito, an Italian professor of piano at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, founded the 70-piece Dublin Orchestral Society, which lasted until the outbreak of World War I.
After the independence of Southern Ireland, the Royal Dublin Society gave concerts. A 1927 effort to revive the Orchestral Society was undertaken, but did not last long.
Meanwhile, in 1926, a national radio channel began, based in Dublin. It hired staff musicians, who often played together on the radio and in concert as a chamber orchestra. String players from the radio, wind players from the Army School of Music, and other musicians played as the Dublin Philharmonic Society under the direction of Col. Fritz Brase, head of the Army School from 1927.
In 1947, the broadcasting authority, now called Radio Éireann (Radio Ireland), expanded its orchestra to symphonic size by opening its membership to musicians from all over Europe. Ireland, as a neutral, had been spared damage in World War II, so musicians from the wrecked economies of a ruined Europe were easy to attract. The new orchestra was named the Radio Éireann Symphony Orchestra. Its initial conductor was Captain Michael Bowles. After he retired in 1948 (he had been conducting the small predecessor or the RÉSO for several years), the new orchestra drifted without a permanent conductor, but played for such major conductors as Jean Martinon and Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt. Finally in 1953, the orchestra found a principal conductor in Milan Horvat, who remained until 1961. In that year, Ireland added television to its broadcasting service. The name of the government body (in English) established by a new broadcasting act in 1960 was the Irish National Public Service Broadcasting Organisation, and the on-air service now became Radio Telefís Éireann (RTÉ). The orchestra became known as the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra. By now it was, de facto, the national orchestra of Ireland and the main city orchestra of Dublin. Its new chief conductor from 1962 was Tibor Paul. He was succeeded by Albert Rosen, Colman Pearce, Bryden Thomson, and Janos Fürst.
In 1981, it found a new concert home when the National Concert Hall opened in Dublin. Also, at about the same time, it expanded its broadcasting activities. Until 1979, RTÉ had run only one radio channel and one television channel. In 1979, they established more channels, including an arts station called FM3, which aired numerous concerts by the RTÉSO. In 1989, the orchestra was expanded to the size of a large symphony orchestra, and it was renamed the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland. Its new principal conductor was George Hurst. Kaspar de Roo took that position in 1994, followed by Alexander Anissimov; the current principal conductor is Gerhard Markson.
The National Symphony now gives a 27 concert season, performs on radio, gives several additional concerts, and makes extensive tours of both political divisions of the island of Ireland. Its concert and arts station is now called Lyric FM.