The Rundfunkchor Berlin was founded on 1 May 1925, performing for the first time on 14 June during the Berlin Radio Hour. Hardly a day went by that it was not to be heard on one of Berlin's radio stations.
But it was not only the immense workload which placed high demands on the choir. Its singers had to be "generalists", because the choir's repertoire included the classical choral genres, concertante opera performances, and concerts with opera choruses. World premieres of contemporary music were also on the programme at an early stage, furthermore, the choir performed folk songs with confidence. Famous German conductors such as Max von Schillings, Hermann Scherchen, Erich Kleiber, Manfred Gurlitt, Eugen Jochum, George Szell, Hans Rosbaud, Kurt Thomas and Hans Pfitzner conducted concerts and radio broadcasts with the choir. Its success continued until 1943 when activity had to be discontinued due to the war.
The Rundfunkchor Berlin was re-established by Helmut Koch in December 1945. During the "Koch era" the works of George Frideric Handel became a central element. The Rundfunkchor Berlin established its reputation as a Handel specialist on tours which took it through most of the countries of Europe, performing almost all of Handel's oratorios in, among other places, Coventry, the Royal Festival Hall, London, Paris and Perugia.
In 1982 Dietrich Knothe was appointed the new principal conductor and led the choir until 1993. He deserves credit for the fact that the choir not only survived in the enlarged musical landscape of post reunification Berlin, but was able to consolidate its leading position. Under Knothe the Rundfunkchor Berlin developed the tradition of performing premieres of contemporary music; the involvement with recent choral writing was accorded greater emphasis. The choir and its principal conductor also paid more attention to Berlin's musical history and presented significant, long-lost rediscoveries. Following the political changes concert activities in Germany and Europe increased once again.
In 1994 Robin Gritton took over the leadership of the Rundfunkchor Berlin, which became part of the newly-founded company Rundfunk-Orchester und -Chöre GmbH Berlin in the same year. Since then the choir's work has included radio recordings, CD recordings for all important labels, its own series of concerts, and appearances in concerts by all of Berlin's major orchestras.
Apart from the principal conductor, other internationally renowned choir leaders such as Stefan Parkman and Uwe Gronostay have stood on the choir's rostrum. When the choir celebrates its first 75 years of existence in the year 2000 it will be able to look back at a long and varied history in which it has always provided performances that comply with the highest standards, as a radio choir, a concert choir and an opera choir.
At the beginning of 2001 Simon Halsey took over as principal conductor of the Rundfunkchor Berlin. The young conductor enjoys a high reputation for his work with both amateur and professional ensembles. He attracted international attention because of his association with Sir Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus, which he directed from 1982. Halsey's unorthodox approach to repertoire and performance practice will surely leave its imprint on his work with the Rundfunkchor.