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Performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 8 in front of the Slovenian Philharmonic in Ljubljana

Photo: Blaž Samec/Delo

Performance of Mahler's famous Symphony No. 8 in Ljubljana commemorating the 310th anniversary of the Slovenian Philharmonic, the second oldest such orchestra in Europe, which was managed by none other than Gustav Mahler himself 130 years ago.

The Slovenska Filharmonija  is Slovenia's principal musical institution, with a rich tradition befitting one of the oldest philharmonic societies in Europe. The Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra  and the Slovenian Philharmonic Choir  operate under its aegis. 

Academia Philharmonicorum Labacensis was the original name of the music society founded by the Ljubljana estates at the start of the eighteenth century. Formally founded in 1701, it included both Slovenian and Austrian members drawn from the nobility and the ranks of bourgeois intellectuals. They cultivated a love of music and devoted particular attention to the orchestra, which played at provincial solemnities, religious celebrations and so on. The purpose of the Academia Philharmonicorum Labacensis was not merely to play and present music for entertainment. Its members also aimed to call to mind, through harmonious playing, that heavenly music that will last forever. This is why the Academia's founders chose as their symbol the organ of the heavenly virgin Cecilia, whose pipes spilled sweet harmony over the Earth, while raising everyone to heaven with the motto: "Receat, mentique perennia monstrat" – It entertains, and reveals eternal things to the mind.

The Philharmonic Society had its premises in the building of the Provincial Theatre, which stood on the site of today's Slovenska Filharmonija building. This half-wooden, 800-seat theatre was built in 1765 on the site of the former riding school of the provincial estates and destroyed by fire in 1885. Two years later an architectural competition was held and the Philharmonic Society's new home was completed in 1891 to a design by the architect Adolf Wagner. The Philharmonic Society's most famous director and conductor was Gustav Mahler , undoubtedly one of the greatest composers and conductors of his time, whose tenure in Ljubljana lasted from 1881 to 1882. Paris newspaper Le Monde once wrote that "Ljubljana is the only city in the world where you will see a bigger crowd at a classical music concert than at a football match." 

The Philharmonic Society was keen to establish a public music school at which musicians of the highest calibre could train. It realised this proposal for the first time in 1806, and then for a second time in 1816, when the applicants for a post as music teacher included Franz Schubert, then 20 years old and already well on his way to becoming a great composer (though not recognised as such until after his death). Another high point in the Philharmonic Society's development came in 1856, when the outstanding Bohemian musician Anton Nedvěd was appointed choirmaster of the men's choir and then, in 1858, director of the Society. 

The building of the Slovenska Filharmonija (the Philharmonic Society's successor) also features decoration by the architect  Jože Plečnik on its east frontage. Following its most recent renovation, the building reopened its doors in 2001, just in time for the 300th anniversary of the Slovenska Filharmonija's predecessors. To mark the anniversary of the first documented concerts, the new organ resounded in the larger of the building's two halls for the first time. 

The Filharmonija enjoys excellent cooperation with Cankarjev Dom , another temple of Slovenian culture. Even more so since the Great Hall of Cankarjev Dom boasts an organ with 75 stops. It could almost be described as a new department of the Slovenska Filharmonija, Slovenia's national philharmonic society.

Text by Tanja Glogovčan