The Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra was established as an institution and a structure after several transformations. The first orchestra was formed by initiative of Sasha Popov - at the time hewas a professor of violin at the Music Academy. At the end of 1928, with the cooperation of the Academy's rector Dimitar Hadzhigeorgiev, the Academic Symphony Orchestra was founded. The orchestra , consisting of 65 musicians, was approved by the Ministry of Education. There were 32 students, 28 soloists and pedagogues, and 5 outside musicians. The orchestra’s concertmaster was Mihail Balkanski. Its first rehearsal was held on December 18 of the same year; S.Popov was the conductor and its first concerts were given in Plovdiv and Stara Zagora in May 1929. In August the orchestra took part in the Varna Summer Music Celebrations (now known as Varna Summer). Over the years the orchestra has been a cradle for musicians who have later become important figures in Bulgarian music life: Vasil Stefanov, Vasil Chernaev, Petar Hristoskov, Stefan Sugarev, Stefan Magnev, Atanas Margaritov, Phillip Kutev, Dimitar Obreshkov, Marin Goleminov, etc.
By 1935 the orchestra had already had over 100 concerts with soloists such as Dimitar Nenov, Panka Pelishek, Tamara Yankova, Mihail Lefterov, Nedyalka Simeonova, Vasil Chernaev, Petar Hristoskov, Ivan Tsibulka, Konstantin Popov, Lyuben Mazarov, etc. Some of the outstanding guest performers were pianists Paul Wittgenstein and Marcel Ciampi and the violinist Henri Marteau. In 1936 with the help of Sasha Popov the Ministry of Defence initiated a recruitment competition for the Guards Orchestra and part of the Academic Symphony Orchestra was transferred to it. That gave an opportunity for musicians to do their military service in the orchestra. The members of the orchestra wore military uniforms and had a rank. Sasha Popov was the orchestra’s chief conductor, and Mihail Lefterov was assistant conductor. Later on the orchestra was named Royal Military Symphony Orchestra and was placed under the direct command of the Defence Minister.
The first performances abroad were in 1939 at the Doge’s Palace in Venice, Basilica di Massenzio in Rome and the BoboliGarden in Florence. In 1942 the orchestra had a tour in Romania and Pancho Vladigerov wrote his Horo Stacatto inspired by Dinicu. Some months later the orchestra toured Hungary, Croatia, Macedonia and the Aegean region. The names of the guest conductors and soloists are a credit to the orchestra: conductor Bruno Walter, pianist Dinu Lipatti and Carlo Zecchi among many others. The orchestra retained its status until 1944. During the bombing raids the orchestra was evacuated and later continued its rehearsals with conductor Atanas Margaritov in the studio of the Sofia Radio. In January 1945 the orchestra changed its patron organization again. It was transformed into a State Symphony Orchestra of the Radio Broadcasting Directorate at the Ministry of Information and Arts, and since August 1st of the same year Sasha Popov once again became its chief conductor.
In 1947 the orchestra became an independent institution - the Bulgarian People's Philharmonic Orchestra, and since 1949 it’s been called Sofia National Philharmonic Orchestra. The Philharmonic Orchestra has worked with some of the best artists of Bulgaria: until 1956 Sasha Popov remained its chief conductor, and between 1946 and 1954 Vasil Stefanov was the assistant conductor. During the period the orchestra had also been conducted by Veselin Pavlov, Vladi Simeonov and Dobrin Petkov. After 1956 Konstantin Iliev was appointed chief conductor and artistic director of the Philharmonic Orchestra. His lead was of historic importance to the institution in terms of repertoire selection and quality of performance in the years 1956-1972 and 1978-1984. Between 1972 and 1978 young Dimitar Manolov took over the orchestra. In 1981 Yordan Dafov became conductor of the orchestra. In 1985Emil Tabakov took over as a conductor. In 1987 he became chief conductor of the orchestra and between 1988 and 2000 he was its artistic director. Since 1981 achoir was added to the National Philharmonic Orchestra, which is now called the Svetoslav Obretenov National Philharmonic Choir. From its initial staff of 101 people the philharmonic ensemble grew to 300: 120 musicians, 100 singers, and soloists - Anton Dikov, Bozhidar Noev, Ivan Drenikov, Marta Deanova, Stoyka Milanova, Mincho Minchev, Ventseslav Nikolov, Stefan Popov, the Dimov Quartet.
With Emil Tabakov in the lead the orchestra entered another important stage in its history: it had clear repertoire policy and a series of guest performances abroad (six times in Germany, four times in Great Britain, three times in Spain, twice in Yugoslavia, twice in France, twice in the USA, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Greece, Turkey etc.). It made recordings for Balkanton, Gega New, Supraphone, Elan, Frequenz, Koch, Mega, Capriccio, Delta.
The Philharmonic Society holds regular popular music lecture courses. More than 50 symphonic works have been recorded by the Sofia Philharmonic, including works by: Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Berloiz, Liszt, Smetana, Dvorak, Rossini, Franck, Saint-Saens, Reger, R. Strauss, Mahler, Skryabin, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Rimskij-Korsakov, Mussorysky, Sibelius, Chabrier, Ravel, Prokopiev, Schostakovich, Khachaturian, Briten, Schonenberg, Kalomiris, conducted by Sasha Popov, Konstantin Iliev, Dobrin Petkov, Dimiter Manolov, Jordan Dafov, Emil Tabakov, Vassil Stefanov, Rouslan Raichev, Vassil Kazandjiev, Emil Tchakarov, Heinz Bongartz, and H. Shimshek. The Sofia Philharmonic has recorded approximately 50 symphonies, instrumental concertos and different orchestral works by the Bulgarian composers L. Pipkov, P. Vladigerov, M. Goleminov, V. Stoyanov, P. Stainov, Ph. Koutev, D. Nenov, K. Iliev, L. Nikolov, A. Raichev, S. Pironkov, G. Toutev, V. Kazandjiev, K. Kyurukchiiski, and S. Dragostinov.
The Sofia Philharmonic has recorded approximately 25 instrumental concertos by Bach, Telemann, Tessarini, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, Paganini, Tchaikovski, Brahms, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Bartok and Jolivet. These works were performed by Anton Dikov, Nikolai Evrov, Marta Deyanova, Milena Mollova, Zheny Zaharieva, Georgi Badev, Mincho Minchev, Yuri Boukoff, Yoko Sato, Erick Friedemann, and the piano duos of Julia and Konstantin Ganev, and Hans and Kurt Scmidt. Operas include recitals by the Bulgarian singers Nicolai Ghiaurov, Nicola Ghiuselev, Ghena Dimitrova, Anna Tomova-Sintova, Raina Kabaivanska, Alexandrina Milcheva, Stoyan Popov, and Dimiter Petkov. The Sofia Philharmonic has made complete recordings of the operas "Tosca" and "Madam Butterfly" by Puccini commissioned by the "Frequenz" Company- Rome, conducted by Gabriele Bellini with the participation of soloists from " La Scala", Milano.