The Riga Festival Orchestra was established in 1998 by the oboist and conductor Normunds Šnē. The orchestra is made up of musicians from the Orchestra Riga Chamber Players and by musicians from all of Latvia's professional orchestras (the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, the orchestra of the Latvian National Opera, the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra and KREMERata Baltica), as well as by students from the Latvian Academy of Music.

The aim of the orchestra is to present a series of concerts that are focused on symphonic music from the 20th century, thus proving that Rīga is a city of culture. Rigensians gain access to compositions by Mahler, Stravinsky, Bartok and their successors which have seldom or never been heard in the city before. These are composers who made full use of the aesthetic ideas of the 20th century, thus becoming a key component of every intellectually developed society.
A second important aspect of the orchestra's work is the presentation of new Latvian music - a process which accents the orchestra's regional belonging. Programmes therefore include symphonies by such Latvian composers as Pēteris Vasks and Artūrs Maskats.
Seven concerts have already been presented as part of the cycle. The first took place on March 20, 1999, and the orchestra played two very important 20th century masterpieces - Mahler's 9th Symphony and Rachmaninov's 3rd Piano Concerto. The two masters first met on stage in the 1910s. The second concert, in the autumn of 1999, presented the distinguished Russian violinist Tatjana Grindenko. At the third concert, on March 3, 2000, the audience heard the Latvian premiere of Vasks' 2nd Symphony, giving it a standing ovation. On October 16 of the same year, Maskats premiered his Symphony, and the orchestra also played a grandiose masterpiece by the American minimalist Steve Reich - The Desert Music. The fifth concert took place on March 23, 2001, offering the audience a chance to hear music by two of Russia's greatest composers - Prokofiev and Stravinsky. At the sixth concert, on November 23, 2001, the orchestra played a symphony by the 20th century French musical genius Olivier Messiaen, Turangalila. The seventh concert, on February 22, 2002, presented a musical and cinematic adventure involving two Russian masters - Shostakovich and Vertov. The eighth concert will take place on November 9, 2002. The orchestra will play with the legendary jazz musician Joe Zawinul.
In 1998, the Rīga Festival Orchestra was joined by the Norwegian guitarist and composer Terje Rypdal in recording a CD for the ECM recording company (ECM New Series 1567).
In 2001, the orchestra recorded a composition by Mārtiņš Brauns, Dream about Rīga, which was presented as an accompaniment to fireworks at the culmination of the city of Rīga's 800th anniversary celebration on August 18, 2001.
In 2002, the Rīga Festival Orchestra received the Great Latvian Music Prize for its performance of Messiane's Turangalila
The general sponsor of the Rīga Festival Orchestra is the Latvijas Unibanka.

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