L'Orchestre National de France, formerly known as the ORTF National Orchestra, is one of the important international symphony orchestras.
In 1929, the French government established l'Office National de la Radiodiffusion (National Radio-Broadcasting Office) which in 1934 created the Orchestre National to serve its musical need. This was the first permanent French symphony orchestra, and its first conductor was D.E. Inghelbrecht. Hitler's forces seized all radio facilities in France in 1940, broadcasting as Radio-Paris with programming that continued to use the National Orchestra. Opposing this propaganda was a BBC service devoted to the free French under exile leader Charles DeGaulle. After the war, and with the addition of television to its services, the radio organization changed its name to RTF (Radio-Television Française). In 1964, technological advance was reflected in a change of name, with RTF becoming l'ORTF (Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française), now under the control of the Ministry of Information.
Inghelbrecht had been succeeded as music director by Manuel Rosenthal, Roger Désormière, Charles Münch, Maurice Le Roux, and Jean Martinon. In the post-war years, the ORTF National Orchestra began to build its reputation as one of the most modern-oriented of European orchestras, giving world premieres of works of Messiaen, Boulez, Xenakis, Varèse, and Dutilleux.
In 1974, the basic state monopoly on broadcasting was affirmed, but with seven public societies functioning. These included a research society, two production societies, and four programming societies: Television Française 1, Antenna 2, the Third Network (FR3) and Radio France. The ORTF National Orchestra was renamed the Orchestre National Française (French National Orchestra). Radio France founded a second orchestra, the Nouvel Philharmonique (now l'Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France).
The Orchestre National Française, in most commentators' views, has become the leading orchestra of France, although there are those who would nominate the Orchestre de Paris, founded in 1967 to replace the Conservatoire Society Orchestra. Sergiu Ceilibidache was briefly the French National Orchestra director, followed by Lorin Maazel, succeeded in 1991 by Charles Dutoit. In July 2001, Dutoit stepped down, with Kurt Masur accepting a three-year contract to follow him.
The orchestra performs regularly in Messiaen Hall in the Maison de Radio France, as well as other venues in Paris and on frequent tours. It gives around 120 concerts a year.