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Yefim Bronfman.

'It's a military operation," says the 120-strong Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra's managing director Jan Raes of touring such a big organisation. "But we are used to it. We have a complete touring department in our offices."

In fact, the RCO, which many critics consider the world's finest symphony orchestra and which this year celebrates its 125th birthday with a world tour that takes in Australia for the first time, has been touring almost from the start.

"The orchestra, which boasts 22 nationalities, was founded in 1888 and its first concert abroad was in 1895," says Belgian-born Raes on the line from the orchestra's headquarters in Amsterdam. "Not only that - playing in different concert halls gives the orchestra a suppleness and flexibility that is one of its strengths."

Perth will be the RCO's first port of call on a tour which will also take in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. Audiences can expect to hear works which celebrate its history, with the orchestra's sixth chief conductor, Mariss Jansons, conducting works by the Dutch composer Wagenaar, Stravinsky (who conducted the orchestra on numerous occasions), Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss, whose Ein Heldenleben was written for the orchestra. Joining the orchestra will be renowned pianist Yefim Bronfman, who will perform Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3.

This year's tour also marks another milestone in the RCO's history: no other orchestra has visited six continents in a single year.

But what gives the RCO its unique identity and sound? "One of the most important factors is the Concertgebouw (the famous Amsterdam concert hall) itself," Raes says.

"It's an incredible hall with a very good acoustic. But more for the audience than the orchestra, which has to listen very hard to each other on stage. That fosters a real chamber-music mentality. The sound is never forced."

Then there is the fact that the RCO has only had six chief conductors in its 125-year history. "That's a unique situation and each of these conductors has had the time to sculpt his own sound. But the base sound doesn't change."

Statements such as this from London's Guardian newspaper are therefore typical rather than exceptional: ". . . the depth and eloquence of the strings, the quick-witted brilliance of the woodwind and the rounded security of the brass are unfailing."

Raes says the other strategy is to look for musicians who will be team players. "We don't look for stars - we look for players who will be focused on their colleagues."

The RCO is the latest orchestra featured as part of the World Orchestras Program, which has already seen leading orchestras such as the London Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic visit Perth.