Bilbao Orkestra Sinfonikoa (BOS) gave its first concert on 8 March 1922 at the Arriaga Theatre, under the baton of Armand Marsick. The orchestra was set up as the result of a grassroots movement in Bizkaia, a province with which it continues to have a close relationship, proof of which is the 2,200 season-ticket holders for its Symphony Season.
Since the BOS was founded, its principal conductors have been Armand Marsick, Vladimir Golschmann, Jesús Arámbarri, José Limantour, Antoine de Babier, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Alberto Bolet, Pedro Pirfano, Urbano Ruiz Laorden, Theo Alcántara, Juanjo Mena and Günter Neuhold.
Down through those 90 years, the BOS has been active both in Bilbao and Bizkaia and abroad. In July 2003, the BOS, under Juanjo Mena, was invited by Valery Gergiev to perform at St. Petersburg’s Mariinski Theatre as part of the celebrations to mark the city’s 3rd centenary. The concert marked a milestone in the Orchestra’s international outreach and it is regularly invited to La folle journée (Nantes)and La Roque d’Antheron (Marseille) festivals. It has been invited to Japan twice: in 2007, where it performed a series of 10 concerts in Tokyo for nearly 40,000 people, and in 2009, when it went on tour to Osaka, Fukui, Tokyo, Fukuoka, Yokohama and Gifu.
Apart from the orchestra’s presence in international forums, special mention should be made of the tours of Spanish cities in the history of the BOS that meant it was de facto the “Orchestra of the north” for decades. The BOS has also frequently performed at the National Auditorium in Madrid, at the Donostia-San Sebastián Musical Fortnight, at the Santander International Festival, Paris Festival, or at the Ibermúsica “Orchestras of the World” cycle. In March 1988, the BOS was invited to the concert to mark Carmelo Bernaola, Cristóbal Halffter and Luis de Pablo being awarded honorary doctorates by the Complutense University of Madrid. In 1998, the orchestra represented the Basque Country at the Lisbon World Expo and took part in the opening of the Euskalduna Conference Centre and Music Hall, the home of the Orchestra, in 1999.
The list of conductors who have led the BOS include renowned names of the ilk of Enrique Fernández Arbós, Bartolomé Pérez Casas, Ataulfo Argenta, Eduardo Toldrá, Sir Malcolm Sargent and Igor Markevitch, and others such as Charles Dutoit, Ros Marbá, García Asensio, Jerzy Semkow and Josep Pons. It has also been conducted by Maurice Ravel, Jesús Guridi, Pablo Sorozábal, Jesús Arambarri, Krzysztof Penderecki, Carmelo Bernaola, Luis de Pablo, Ernesto & Cristóbal Halffter and other composers to perform their own works.
The BOS, throughout its long history, has performed alongside some of the greatest soloists: José Iturbi, Arturo Rubinstein, Jacque Thibaud, Vladimir Horowitz, Fritz Kreisler, Joseph Szigeti, Henryk Szeryng, Vlado Perlemuter, Mstilav Rostropovich, Salvatore Accardo, Joaquín Achúcarro, Felix Ayo, Nicanor Zabaleta, Maurice André, Mischa Maisky, Narciso Yepes, Alicia de Larrocha, Boris Belkin, Ivo Pogorelich, Jean Pierre Rampal, Asier Polo, Truls Mork, Sabine Meyer and Frank Peter Zimmermann, to name a few. The list of singers includes names of the ilk of Victoria de los Angeles, Montserrat Caballé, Alfredo Kraus, Plácido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Ainhoa Arteta, Waltraud Meier, along with the Bilbao Choral Society, Orfeón Donostiarra and the Choir of the University of the Basque Country (UPV).
As part of its discography, the BOS conducted by Juanjo Mena recorded an interesting collection of Basque music for the Naxos classical music label (Arambarri, Guridi, Arriaga, Isasi, Usandizaga, Sarasate and Escudero) and works by Rodrigo and Takemitsu with Kiyoshi Shomura, the Japanese guitarist, for the EMI JAPAN label. In 1985, it recorded Arriaga works with Jesús López Cobos. It also released a CD under the Thorofon label of Schönberg’s Gurrelieder, recorded live during the concerts to mark the orchestra’s 90th anniversary and conducted by Günter Neuhold.
In addition to its chamber and season-holder seasons at the Euskalduna Conference Centre and Music Hall, its outreach to the towns of Bizkaia, its involvement in ABAO operas, and its tours and outings, the Orchestra plays a key educational role: concerts for schools since 1985, an initiative in which it is considered a trial-blazer, family concerts and social inclusion through music activities. It also has lines of collaboration in place with other cultural institutions, such as the Arriaga Theatre, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and Bilbao’s Fine Arts Museum.
The activity of the BOS is possible thanks to the support of its many supporters and to the contributions of its patrons, Bizkaia Provincial Council and Bilbao City Council.