The Student Symphony Orchestra of the St Petersburg Conservatory was established by that institution’s founder and director Anton Rubinstein, who from the very first days of the conservatoire’s existence ran classes of orchestral performance and ensemble playing. The orchestra made its debut in 1867, when the Mikhailovsky Palace hosted a performance of Gluck’s opera Orphée et Eurydice, conducted by Rubinstein. Later the orchestra was to be conducted by many noted musicians, among them Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Karl Davydov and Alexander Glazunov. Following an absence, Rubinstein’s return to the conservatory was heralded by performances of some major scores – Taneyev’s cantata John of Damascus (St Petersburg premiere) and Beethoven’s C-Major Mass among other works.
A new era in the orchestra’s history began when the conservatoire launched a conducting class, which was essentially founded by Nikolai Tcherepnin. Here his pupils acquired their first experience of working with a full symphony orchestra. One of Tcherepnin’s students was Sergei Prokofiev, who heard his first scores performed by the student orchestra.
In the Soviet era the orchestra’s lofty position was maintained by the great conductors who collaborated with it – Emil Cooper, Nicolai Malko, Alexander Gauk, Samuil Samosud and Ilya Musin. At this time, the orchestra began to work with future maestri of the Russian conducting school, then students: Sergei Yeltsin, Alexander Melik-Pashayev and Yevgeny Mravinsky, and later with Neeme Järvi, Yuri Temirkanov, Vladislav Chernushenko, Yuri Simonov and Valery Gergiev.
For sixteen years the conservatory’s orchestra was directed by Nikolai Rabinovich. Under his leadership the ensemble assimilated an incredibly complex repertoire including Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s Sixth and Mahler’s Third (that performance being hugely commended by Dmitry Shostakovich) to name but a few. Key events for the student orchestra have included a performance of Britten’s War Requiem in 1964 (USSR premiere) and Shostakovich’s Second Cello Concerto with Mstislav Rostropovich in 1966.
Following an interval of many years, the orchestra was recreated in 2004. Today, first-year students of the orchestra faculty train in it. In the past few years the orchestra has prepared a series of concert programmes under the guidance of such conductors as Mariss Jansons, Vassily Sinaisky, Sergei Stadler, Alexander Titov, Alexander Sladkovsky, Misha Katz, Alim Shakhmametiev, Alexei Vasiliev, Mikhail Golikov and Dmitry Ralko. The ensemble accompanied a performance by Luciano Pavarotti during his final concert tour to St Petersburg (2004).
Each year the orchestra takes part in the International Conservatory Week festival and tours to great acclaim in Russia and internationally, appearing in Germany, France, Italy, the Czech Republic and Lithuania.