The Croatian Radiotelevision Symphony Orchestra is one of the oldest European radio orchestras: it grew out of an orchestra founded in 1929 for Radio-Zagreb, just six years after the foundation of the first European radio orchestra. It has borne its current title since 1991. Initially, it was tied exclusively to the radio programme, however it began to hold public performances in 1942. Live broadcasts of concerts and recording remain a component part of its work.
The first public concert cycle with a live audience and radio broadcast was held at the Croatian Music Institute. Among the conductors of the time, the most common were Lovro pl. Matačić, Krešimir Baranović, Boris Papandopulo, Mladen Pozajić, Dragan Gürtl, and later Friedrich Zaun, Milan Sachs, Slavko Zlatić, Ferdinand Pomykalo... Of the post-war generation of conductors, those most tied to the work of the orchestra were Milan Horvat, Antonio Janigro, and Stjepan Šulek. In 1962, the position of chief conductor was introduced. The chief conductors were Pavle Dešpalj, Krešimir Šipuš, Josef Daniel, Oskar Danon, Milan Horvat, Uroš Lajovic, Vladimir Kranjčević, and Nikša Bareza. Enrico Dindo has held this position since the 2015/2016 season.
With a unique programme orientation, at the centre of which is the continuous performance and stimulation of works by Croatian authors as well as a repertoire of both standard and lesser-known works, the Croatian Radiotelevision Symphony Orchestra has become one of the key performing bodies in Croatia. Even during the Homeland War in the early 1990s, the orchestra held dozens of concerts in battlefields from Osijek, Pakrac, Lipik, Đakovo, Gospić, Vinkovci, and Bošnjaci to Šibenik, Zadar, Karlovac, and even Sarajevo. The orchestra regularly takes part in festivals and events such as the Zagreb Music Biennale, the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, Osor Music Evenings, Music Evenings at St. Donat’s Church, educational concerts for children and youth in cooperation with Croatian Musical Youth (HGM), competitions for young musicians... Concerts with years-long subscription cycles, the independent Majstorski ciklus and cycle Kanconijer in cooperation with Croatian Radiotelevision Choir, which hosts leading Croatian and international directors and soloists, are held at the Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall and are broadcast live on Croatian Radio’s Third Programme and Croatian Television’s Third Programme. A large number of audio and video recordings are stored in the Croatian Radiotelevision archives, which are available via the HRTi multimedia platform.
Some of the many conductors and soloists with whom the orchestra has worked are Igor Markevitch, Franz Konwitschny, Claudio Abbado, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Ernst Bour, Krzysztof Penderecki, André Navarra, Leonid Kogan, Henryk Szeryng, Aldo Ciccolini, Ruža Pospiš-Baldani, Dunja Vejzović, Dubravka Tomšič-Srebotnjak, Rudolf Klepač, Ivo Pogorelić, Vladimir Krpan, Mstislav Rostropovich, Maxim Fedotov, Edita Gruberova, José Carreras, Ruggero Raimondi, Barbara Hendricks, Luciano Pavarotti… In the past few seasons, guest conductors have included Mladen Tarbuk, Aleksandar Marković, Valery Polyansky, André de Ridder, Ivan Repušić, Johannes Kalitzke, Pascal Rophé, Stanislav Kočanovski, Ivo Lipanović, and soloists have included Stephen Kovacevich, Pavao Mašić, Aleksandar Madžar, Radovan Vlatković, Martina Filjak, Aleksandar Buzlov, Ivana Bilić, Gordan Tudor, Javor Bračić, Håkan Hardenberger, Roman Simović, Andrea Lucchesini, Aljoša Jurinić, Leon Košavić, Goran Filipec, Monika Leskovar, Mischa Maisky…
The orchestra's discographic opus includes original albums by Croatian composers Stjepan Šulek, Milko Kelemen, and Miro Belamarić, a series of CDs dedicated to the orchestra’s chief conductors, and the CD Donizetti Heroines with Elena Moşuc, the Croatian Radiotelevision Choir and maestro Ivo Lipanović (Sony Classical, 2013). The five-disc album Stjepan Šulek (1914 – 1986): 8 Symphonies (HRT, Cantus, HDS, 2013) won a Porin discographic award. Pavle Dešpalj’s Concert for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra with soloist Gordan Tudor under the baton of maestro Pavle Dešpalj won a Porin in 2016 in the category of ‘best classical performance’. More recent releases have included a recording of Vatroslav Lisinski’s Ljubav i zloba, the first Croatian opera, including soloists, the HRT Choir, and maestro Mladen Tarbuk (HRT, 2017). To celebrate its 80th anniversary, a monography on the work of the orchestra was published alongside a double-album including recordings of chief conductors Milan Horvat, Krešimir Šipuš, Josef Daniel, Pavle Dešpalj, Vladimir Kranjčević, Oskar Danon, Uroš Lajovic and Nikša Bareza.
The Croatian Radiotelevision Symphony Orchestra won a Judita award at the 59th Split Summer (2013).