It was formerly the orchestra of the Prague National Opera. It played its first concert under its current name on January 4, 1896, when Antonin Dvorak conducted his own compositions, but did not become fully independent from the opera until 1901. In 1908, Gustav Mahler led the orchestra in the world premiere of his Symphony No. 7.
The orchestra first became internationally known under the baton of Václav Talich, who was principal conductor from 1919 to 1931, and again from 1933 to 1941. His successors have included Rafael Kubelik (1941-48), Karel Ancerl (1950-68), Václav Neumann (1968-89) and Jiri Belohlávek (1990-92). In 1998 Vladimir Ashkenazy, better known as a pianist, took up the post. Their Chief Guest conductor is Charles Mackerras.