Awarded the Royal title in 1957, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra presents its schedule of concerts under the aegis of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society, which offered its first event on March 12, 1840. Alone among Britain's orchestral societies, the R.L.P.S. owns its own concert hall, a 1939 art deco structure designed by Herbert J. Rowse. Over a three-year period beginning in 1992, the R.L.P.S. undertook a more than ten-million-dollar modernization program to improve both acoustics and support facilities. On the historical list of principal conductors are such names as Max Bruch (who served the orchestra for three years, beginning in 1860), Charles Hallé, Henry Wood, Malcolm Sargent (beginning with the completion of the hall in 1940), John Pritchard, Charles Groves, Walter Weller, David Atherton, Marek Janowski, and Libor Pesek. Pesek, hired as principal conductor in 1987, was designated music director in 1988. When he resigned in 1997 to devote himself to freelance work, he was made conductor laureate and Peter Altricher was engaged as interim conductor. In February 2000, Gerard Schwarz, music director of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, was appointed music director of the R.L.P.O. He was succeeded in 2006 by Vasily Petrenko, then at age 29 the youngest conductor to lead the ensemble.
In addition to a full subscription schedule of concerts, the R.L.P.O. presents a Summer Pops series. A second home in Preston offers a sub-series of concerts and the orchestra provides frequent concerts in Birmingham, Blackburn, Carlisle, and Leeds. Overseas tours have enhanced the orchestra's reputation; trips to the Continent, America, and the Far East have reinforced the R.L.P.O.'s status as an important international ensemble. In 1993, it became the first non-Czech orchestra to receive an invitation to open the Prague Spring Festival; a return visit in 1996 was equally successful. In 1989, the R.L.P.S. and R.L.P.O. were awarded an honorary fellowship from the Liverpool John Moores University. Further honors included Freedom of the City of Liverpool in 1991 and a citation of Meritorious Service in 1997. Among its major recording projects are a warmly praised release of Delius' Mass of Life under Groves, a Dvorák symphony cycle, and other works by Mahler, Smetana, and Suk; and under Pesek, Vernon Handley's cycle of Vaughan Williams symphonies and a series of Mahler and Beethoven symphonies led by Charles Mackerras.