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 with the name Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse, past music directors of the orchestra have included André Cluytens (beginning in 1932) and Georges Prêtre (1951–1955). The Orchestre du Capitole rose to prominence during Michel Plasson's tenure as music director, from 1968 to 2003.
In 1974, Plasson chose the Halle aux Grains, a former market converted into an arena, to become the orchestra's residence. Until then, the orchestra was not used to giving symphonic concerts as it was instead confined to the Capitole's pit, and had a reasonably low-profile reputation. Within twelve years, due to the insistence of high artistic standards of Plasson, the orchestra had improved enough to qualify to have the term "national" in its name, which it acquired in 1980.
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. '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 continues to tour heavily today. Natalie Dessay made her debut with the Capitole and still performs regularly 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.
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 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 as one of the top three 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.