The RPO was founded in 1946 by Thomas Beecham and played its first concert in Croydon on September 15, 1946. Beecham was principal conductor until his death in 1961. He was followed by then assistant conductor Rudolf Kempe, who was given the title of Conductor for Life in 1970. Subsequent musical directors and principal conductors have been Antal Doráti (1975-78), Walter Weller (1980-85), André Previn (1985-92), Vladimir Ashkenazy (1987-94). Yuri Temirkanov was appointed principal conductor in 1992, and Daniele Gatti music director in 1996.
As well as performing works from the classical repertoire, the RPO has recorded a number of film scores, including those for Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Red Shoes. It recorded the Hooked on Classics series of records, and has also recorded several orchestra arrangements of pop tunes by the likes of Pink Floyd, Queen and ABBA. Recently, the orchestra has become closely associated with Classic FM.
Associated with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra which is devoted to playing lighter classics. It was formed in 1987.