The city of Cluj, heart of the important Romanian region of Transylvania, enjoys a diverse cultural tradition: its University dates from 1723 and music has been printed here as early as the sixteenth century. It is therefore no wonder that, in less than ten years after its establishment, the young orchestra became one of the top symphonic ensembles in Romania. The main figure to have made this possible was the orchestra’s first conductor, Maestro Antonin Ciolan. Fascinating personality, to which the Orchestra owes the brightness and maturity of their sound, Antonin Ciolan was also a professor at the Conservatories in Iaşi and Cluj, as well as founder of the Philharmonic Society of Bessarabia and Iaşi Philharmonic. He studied in Dresden, Berlin and Leipzig, under Arthur Nikisch and Hans von Bülow. He spent his entire career striving for excellence, an aim he passed on to his disciples: Petre Sbârcea, Emil Simon, Ervin Acel or Erich Bergel. It was a wonderful opportunity for the newly founded orchestra to benefit, in the first decade of its existence, from this great conductor’s experience and knowledge, artistic capacity, enthusiasm and devotion.
Maestro Ciolan’s was taken further by two of his most accomplished disciples, conductors Emil Simon (principal conductor of the orchestra between 1960 and 2000) and Erich Bergel (principal conductor between 1966 and 1972, Honorary Music Director from 1994 to his death in May 1998). They brought their contributions to the growth and refinement of the orchestra and the expanding of the programmes towards late Romantic and twentieth-century music. Later, the position of principal conductors of the Philharmonic was held by Cristian Mandeal, Nicolae Moldoveanu and Mihail Agafiţa.
Erich Bergel, a name so closely linked to the destiny of the Philharmonic, began his career as a flute player of the Sibiu Philharmonic. Later he studied conducting, organ and composition at the Cluj Conservatory of Music and became chief conductor of the “Transylvania” Philharmonic. Because of the communist regime, he was forced to emigrate to Germany, where he was endorsed by Herbert von Karajan, deeply impressed by Bergel’s completion and orchestration of the last fugue of Bach’s Art of Fugue. Between 1971 and 1974 he was chief conductor of Nordwestdeutschen Philharmonie Herford and in 1989 he was appointed chief conductor of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra. He toured all over the world, from Paris to Auckland, Los Angeles to Berlin, Vienna to Cape Town. From 1994 to his death, in 1998, Erich Bergel was Honorary Music Director of the “Transylvania” Philharmonic.
The position of principal conductor is currently held by Gabriel Bebeşelea.
With over 120 recordings, mainly released by Electrecord, The Transylvania Philharmonic presents what is perhaps the largest discography among Romanian orchestras, featuring some of the finest artists of the country – the conductors Antonin Ciolan, Emil Simon, Erich Bergel, Cristian Mandeal and Mircea Cristescu, the pianists Valentin Gheorghiu and Dan Grigore, the violinists Ştefan Ruha and Mihaela Martin. It reflects the entire range of the orchestra’s wide repertory, from Baroque to contemporary music, including impressive series such as the complete Brahms and Bruckner symphonies, as well as works by Debussy, Ravel, Wagner, and Vivaldi.