The first concert of the Warsaw Philharmonic took place in 1901. The conductor was Emil Mlynarski and the soloist was the famous pianist and future statesman Ignacy Paderewski. The program of that historical event included the Piano Concerto in A Minor by Paderewski and the works of Chopin, Moniuszko, Noskowski, Stojowski and Zelenski. The Philharmonic soon became a magnet to prominent artists from all over the world. Before and after World War I it was the centre of Polish music life and a leading music institution in Europe. Almost all famous conductors and soloists performed here, including Grieg, Honegger, Klemperer, Prokofiev, Rachmaninow, Ravel, Rodzinski, Richard Strauss, Stravinski, Arrau, Horowitz, Kempff, Rubinstein, Huberman and Sarasate. The Philharmonic housed the first three Chopin International Piano Competitions (1927, 1932, 1937) and the first Festival of Polish Art (1937). The building was totally destroyed during World War II and half the members of the orchestra were killed. After the war the philharmonic was led by Olgierd Straszynski and Andrzej Panufnik. In 1950 Witold Rowicki undertook the task of forming a new team, in spite of difficulties (with no home of its own, the orchestra played in sports halls and theatres). Thanks to Rowicki the ensemble reached a high level of performance and became a leading orchestra in Poland. In 1952 the "Choral Studio" was created and soon a professional philharmonic chorus was organized (1953). At that time chamber concerts started which to this day are an important part of the orchestra's activity.
In February 1955 the restored seat of the orchestra was reopened, with the main concert hall for 1000 listeners and the chamber concert hall of 433 seats. The new National Philharmonic (the name was supposed to reflect its status of the leading music institution) was led until 1958 by Bohdan Wodiczko, a prominent musician and contemporary music lover, in collaboration with Arnold Rezler and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski. The chorus was conducted by Roman Kuklewicz. Those were good years: the orchestra grew in number and the concert hall gained an organ. In the wake of the enormous popularity of modern music concerts, an International Festival of Contemporary Music (known as "the Warsaw Autumn") was initiated. With time it became one of the most important festivals of this kind in the world. In 1958 Rowicki was reappointed director and conductor and remained in the post until 1977. The permanent guest conductors in those years were Stanislaw Wislocki and Andrzej Markowski. The next director, Kazimierz Kord put emphasis on extending the repertoire with oratorio and opera music. In a new enterprise "The National Philharmonic Presents" a series a concerts was recorded live for Polskie Nagrania. Since 1978 the chorus has been conducted by Henryk Wojnarowski.
Both formations have earned worldwide recognition and have toured all the continents over 100 times with huge successes. The orchestra has performed at all major concert halls and taken part in prestigious festivals in Vienna, Berlin, Prague, Bergen, Lucerne, Montreux, Moscow, Brussels, Florence, Bordeaux and Athens. It appears regularly at the Chopin Piano Competitions and the Warsaw Autumn Festivals. It records for Polish radio, television, film, and music companies at home and abroad. During one season over 80 symphonic and over 50 chamber music concerts are played. In addition, performances for young audiences are organized. Concerts at schools are also arranged with the aim of generating interest in classical music among the young generation.
The long list of guest conductors at the National Philharmonic includes Hermann Abendroth, Gary Bertini, Herbert Blomstedt, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Charles Dutoit, Philippe Entremont, Aram Khachaturian, Yehudi Menuhin, Kurt Masur, Helmuth Rilling, Gennady Rozhdestvenski, Leopold Stokowski and Igor Stravinsky.
The soloists who performed here have been, among others, Martha Argerich, Kathleen Battle, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Teresa Berganza, Nigel Kennedy, Midori, Anne Sophie Mutter, David Oistrakh, Sviatoslav Richter, Artur Rubinstein, Mstislav Rostropovich, Henryk Szeryng, Pinchas Zukerman. At present the Orchestra of the National Philharmonic consists of 112 musicians and the chorus numbers 100 singers.