Founded in 1952, the Chamber Music Ensemble of Concepción was incorporated to the University of Concepción six years later, becoming its Symphony Orchestra. Now composed of more than 50 professional musicians with permanent contract plus additional musicians hired as permanent reinforcements, it has become one of the few symphonic endeavors at a professional level in the regions of Chile. Sustained exclusively by the University of Concepción throughout its history, over the last years it has also received valuable support from the national government, initially provided through the Program for Regional Professional Orchestras—a part of the Music Fund— and since 2016 directly from the National Council of Arts and Culture.
Since its foundation, it has offered 64 official concert seasons with symphonic, chamber, Christmas, educational, itinerant and young talents programs. In 2003, it started a new line of artistic work with the establishment of opera seasons in complete scenic versions, expanded since 2008 to include chamber operas. Highlights have been the staging of Madama Butterfly, Le Nozze di Figaro, Rigoletto, Luisa Fernanda, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, La Traviata, La Serva Padrona, Lucia di Lammermoor, Don Giovanni and The magic flute. The chamber repertoire has included La Serva Padrona, Der Schauspieldirektor, Il Signor Bruschino and Il Campanello. Another new line of work was started in 2006 with the Chilean music projects resulting in the staging of the unprecedented programs Symphonic Víctor Jara, Symphonic Violeta Parra, Symphonic Luis Advis, Symphonic Patricio Manns, Symphonic Chile, Symphonic Congreso, Symphonic Horacio Salinas + Inti-Illimani Histórico, Symphonic Manuel García and Los Jaivas: Symphonic Journey. Blending orchestral sounds and popular styles, these productions have brought a new perspective on national music, and have featured such outstanding singers as Manuel García, Claudia Acuña, Ramiro Vera, José Seves, Ema Millar, Marianela Camaño and Feliciano Saldías. As a result of this work, the Orchestra has issued its first compact disc, Symphonic Víctor Jara. A second CD, Symphonic Congreso, was issued in 2012.
It is noteworthy that, in 2009, the Orchestra resumed the Young Talents Program, creating an annual competition that takes place during the second semester. This competition is supported by the Children and Youth Orchestras Foundation of Chile. Additionally, the Orchestra has created the Call for the Premiere of Works by Chilean Composers, a unique initiative for promoting the creation and performance of new Chilean compositions.
The Concepción Symphony Orchestra has worked with about a hundred renowned Chilean and foreign conductors. Its Music Directors have included Maestro Wilfried Junge–its founding conductor, who passed away in 2001–and maestros Ernst Huber-Contwig, José Carlos Santos, Joachim Harder and Luis Gorelik.
Throughout its long career, the Orchestra has performed in every district of the Bío Bío Region and in all cities of Southern Chile, including Punta Arenas, Coyhaique and Cerro Sombrero (Tierra del Fuego), as well as in Santiago, Viña del Mar, Valparaíso, Antofagasta, Iquique and Frutillar, and also in several Argentinian towns. In its pursuit to bring music to the widest possible audience, the Orchestra has performed in theaters, churches, gymnasiums, schools, prisons, squares and parks, and has taken part in massive concerts, such as the one offered in 1995 by famous tenor Luciano Pavarotti in the Regional Stadium of Concepción, and a New Year Concert with Latin American music ensemble Inti-Illimani. Other landmarks have been the Opera Galas of 2007 and 2009 with the renowned Chilean soprano Verónica Villarroel.
The Orchestra’s outreach work has been acknowledged with the ‘President of the Republic’ National Music Prize 2004, awarded for the first time to a symphony orchestra. In 2008, it took part in the main celebration of the National Music Day, organized by the Council for the Promotion of National Music, with performances of Symphonic Luis Advis and Symphonic Víctor Jara. The Orchestra was also the only artist invited to perform at the opening of the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center (GAM). It has also been awarded the Medal of the Chilean Council of Music (2012) and the ‘Academy Prize’ by the Chilean Academy of Fine Arts (2015), as well as the Art Critics Circle Award (2017) for its contribution to the development of opera in the regions of Chile.
The University of Concepción has taken cultural outreach as one the most relevant university policies, creating and sustaining stable ensembles and infrastructure intended for the community, a task that has attracted recognition at a national level. This effort has resulted in the formation of new audiences and young talents, and the promotion of Chilean music. At the same time, institutional management has been enhanced by the circulation of musical works through the Chilean Network of Regional Theaters. New alliances among these institutions have allowed to develop and promote networking and cultural exchange among different cultural centers, fostering new collaborative spaces for displaying and exhibiting local cultural goods of artistic relevance. This will be a long-lasting contribution to the progress of artistic and cultural disciplines and communities in different places of the country, with an emphasis on the creation, growth and diversification of audiences.