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Back Home About the Opera Royal Swedish Orchestra


Skilled ORCHESTRA with a long history

Musicians who had come to Sweden from Europe laid the foundation for the Royal Swedish Orchestra. Almost 500 years later it is not only one of the world’s oldest orchestras; with 105 members it is also the largest orchestra in Sweden. From having been a royal institution under Gustav Vasa, the orchestra has been at the heart of the Royal Opera since its inception in 1773, bringing together all its disciplines. The orchestra is normally found in the orchestra pit between the main stage and the stalls. But like the Royal Swedish Opera Chorus, members of the orchestra also participate in lunch concerts and at surprise events. The Royal Swedish Opera music director and international conductor Alan Gilbert is head of the Royal Swedish Orchestra since 2021. Below you can hear him speak about his career, the profession of conducting and working with the Royal Swedish Orchestra.

»An opera company that has been active for so many years has a collective experience and knowledge that cannot be copied.« 

Music Director & Royal Court Kapellmeister

Alan Gilbert combines his role as Music Director and Royal Court Kapellmeister at the Royal Swedish Opera with another prestigious assignment, as Chief Conductor of the Elbe Philharmonic Orchestra in Hamburg. In addition, he regularly serves as Conductor Laureate of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra.

What is the difference between being the conductor of an opera orchestra and a symphony orchestra?
I look more to the similarities. In an opera, it's about us presenting a story, but when I lead a symphony orchestra, I usually tell the musicians that we also tell a story.
But of course there are differences, not least how we as a repertoire theatre need to schedule and rehearse. »How do you do it?« I have been asked by other orchestral musicians when we, for example, give a performance of Strauss' Elektra without having been able to play the piece for several weeks. It adds an extra dimension that we all have to be on our toes, and to lead an opera orchestra is a privilege. It's like being in the driver's seat of a performance.

Does the Royal Swedish Orchestra have a special sound compared to other orchestras?
I've always been deeply moved by the heart of this orchestra. It sounds so soulful, but of course there is also technical brilliance. The orchestra has a history, a tradition that is intimately linked to its identity.

What are you most looking forward to during the spring season?
... to do Wagner's Parsifal, a work that I have lived with for so long but that I have not yet conducted. It's a fantastic piece. So transcendent and spiritual – it expands the boundaries of what a meditation is.


Curious to find out more?