As an artistic institution exclusively dedicated to concert activities, the Philharmonic was founded in the autumn of 1955, through an official decree of Romania’s Council of Ministers, under the name of the Cluj State Philharmonic. At that time, there were two ensembles: the symphonic orchestra of 75 musicians and the ensemble of traditional music of 20 members. Under the initial directorship of conductor Wilhelm Demian, Maestro Antonin Ciolan was appointed principal conductor of the symphonic ensemble, also in charge of the selection of the members. He conducted the first concert of the Philharmonic on the 4th of December 1955, in a genuine tour de force: Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Sigismund Toduţă’s Concerto No. 1 for String Orchestra, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (with Silvia Şerbescu) and Beethoven’s Eroica. In early 1956, Antonin Ciolan became the general manager of the Philharmonic.
The city of Cluj-Napoca had been enjoying a symphonic tradition already since the beginning of the nineteenth century, through the activities of the Orchestra of the Hungarian Theatre (founded in 1792), the Music Society and the Music Circle. During the interwar period, symphonic events were organized by the orchestras of the Romanian Opera (founded in 1919), Hungarian Theatre and by the Goldmark Orchestra, which belonged to the city’s Jewish community. The year 1947 witnessed the first attempt to establish a concert institution, under the name of “Ardealul” Philharmonic, which had a short existence of only two seasons. However, it laid the foundations for what the cultural life in Cluj-Napoca was to become.
Due to Maestro Ciolan’s experience and the excellent training of the young musicians from the Academy of Music (at that time the “Gheorghe Dima” Conservatory of Music), the Philharmonic enjoyed a rapid growth. The ambitious young orchestra had high aspirations and it soon established an important position among the national artistic values. Some of the most prestigious musicians of the moment became part of the Philharmonic as Artists in Residence: the flutist Dumitru Pop and the pianist Gheorghe Halmos. They were followed, shortly after, by the violinist Ştefan Ruha, who would later develop a remarkable international career while simultaneously remaining committed to the Philharmonic for three decades.
Two of Antonin Ciolan’s disciples started their careers during the years that followed – conductors Emil Simon and Erich Bergel. Another famous Romanian conductor, Cristian Mandeal was also active with the Philharmonic in his formative years.
In 1965, the Philharmonic organized the first edition of its own yearly festival, Cluj Musical Autumn. One year later, the Chamber Orchestra was founded, under the baton of Mircea Cristescu.
In 1972, under composer Sigismund Toduţă’s directorship, the Philharmonic’s Choir was established and the training was entrusted to the unforgettable Maestro Dorin Pop, subsequently followed by his disciples Florentin Mihăescu and Cornel Groza. In 1993, the name was changed into the Transylvania State Philharmonic.
Famous guests – such as Kurt Masur, Kirill Kondrashin, Stanisław Wisłocki, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Witold Lutosławski, Carlo Zecchi, Yannis Xenakis, János Ferencsik, Aldo Ciccolini, Krzysztof Penderecki, Michi Inoue, Stefan Anton Reck, Sir John Pritchard, Anatole Fistoulari, George Georgescu, André Jolivet, Edvard Tchivzhel, Adrian Sunshine, Horia Andreescu, Maurice Handford, Leopold Hager, Valery Gergiev, Alexandr Dmitriev, Lawrence Foster, Antonello Allemandi, Sascha Goetzel, John Axelrod, Jörg Widmann, Monique Haas, Sviatoslav Richter, Ruggiero Ricci, Valentin Gheorghiu, Friedrich Gulda, Annie Fischer, Aldo Ciccolini, Dmitri Bashkirov, Dan Grigore, Lazar Berman, Radu Lupu, Jean Pierre Rampal, Silvia Marcovici, Mihaela Martin, Bruno Leonardo Gelber, Patrik Gallois, José Carreras, Angela Gheorghiu, Philippe Entremont, Roberto Alagna, Raphael Wallfisch, David Grimal, Tatiana Lisnic, Freddy Kempf, Christian Lindberg, Liviu Prunaru, Raúl Jaurena, Marcel Khalifé and many others – have increased the reputation of the Philharmonic on the international musical scene. Many regular international tours have confirmed the reputation of the orchestra and choir. Equally, an important discography represents the proof of the solid values created during decades by the musicians of Cluj.
The directorship of the Philharmonic was assumed, after Antonin Ciolan and Sigismund Toduţă, by a series of important personalities in the artistic life of the city: writer Dumitru Mircea, musicologist Rodica Oana Pop, violinist Radu Grecu, composer Adrian Pop, violinist George Dudea, conductor Emil Simon, manager Denisa Piteiu, violinist Dorina Mangra. Today, under the management of pianist and writer Marius Tabacu, the Philharmonic continues this long-established tradition.