The Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse is a French orchestra based in Toulouse. It acts as both a symphony orchestra whose main residence is Toulouse's Halle aux Grains, and the permanent orchestra of the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse.
Initially named Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse, (without the 'National' title) the orchestra began as the opera orchestra of Théâtre du Capitole. Notable past music directors of the orchestra have included André Cluytens (beginning in 1932) and Georges Prêtre (1951–1955), but the Orchestre du Capitole rose to international prominence during Michel Plasson's tenure as music director, from 1968 to 2003.
Until Plasson's era, the orchestra was a purely operatic orchestra, rarely playing symphonies and almost never touring. Within twelve years, Plasson's insistence of higher artistic standards and goals had improved the orchestra's reputation dramatically. He began a period of critically acclaimed recordings and tours, and in 1980 the orchestra was bestowed the title of a French 'National' orchestra. Since 1974, the Halle aux Grains become the orchestra's main concert hall. It was originally a market and was later converted to a boxing arena, before becoming the orchestra's principle symphonic residence.
Plasson's flamboyant personality, his insistence on playing and recording the French repertoire (especially rarely played pieces), and his record deal with EMI, combined to make the orchestra the "reference" French orchestra, the most visible and most visibly French, with approximately one hundred records released. He also created a fundraising group called 'Aida', which has many large business donors, most notably Airbus, as well as banks. 'Aida' pays for the orchestra's very busy international touring calendar, and recordings. It was early in Plasson's tenure that the orchestra began to tour internationally, and it continues to tour heavily today.
Natalie Dessay began her career as a singer in the Choeur du Capitole and also made her solo debut with the orchestra. In 2014 she sang with the orchestra in the title role of Manon, which was her last official opera performance.
On May 9, 2003, Plasson announced his decision not to renew his contract after August 31, 2003. He complained that planned works in the Halle aux Grains would impair the 2003-2004 concert season. Unofficially, his departure was caused by the city's refusal to increase the orchestra's payroll. In 2004, Plasson was made "honorary conductor" of the orchestra, although he has rarely conducted the orchestra since.
In 2005, the city named Tugan Sokhiev principal guest conductor and musical adviser of the orchestra. Sokhiev became the orchestra's music director and principal conductor in September 2008. Artistically, Sokhiev moved the orchestra away from the French sound and traditions cultivated by Plasson, and has taken the orchestra in a more rhythmically impactful and sonically contrasting direction.
In 2011 the French national paper 'Le Figaro' reviewed the top 25 orchestras in France. The Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse was listed among the three best orchestras in France, one of the so-called 'Trio de l'excellence'. Also included in this top tier group were the Orchestre de Paris, and the orchestra of the Opera National de Paris.
In 2015 Sokhiev signed a new contract which will see him stay as artistic director and principal conductor until 2019.