In its early years, many prominent conductors made recordings with the ensemble, including Arturo Toscanini (released only in the 1990s due to the lack of Toscanini's approval) and Wilhelm Furtwängler. However, Herbert von Karajan was most associated with the Philharmonia in its early years. Whilst he never held an official title with the Philharmonia, Karajan built the orchestra into one of the finest ensembles in the world, and made numerous recordings, including all the Beethoven symphonies.
In 1954, Karajan was elected music director of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and subsequently curtailed his work with the Philharmonia. Needing to find a new conductor for the orchestra, Legge turned to Otto Klemperer, whose career was flagging at the time. This proved to be an inspired decision, and Klemperer's name became indelibly linked with the orchestra during an "Indian Summer" of great recordings. In 1959, Klemperer was named music director for life.
On 10 March 1964, Legge announced that he was going to disband the Philharmonia Orchestra. At a recording session with Otto Klemperer, a meeting was convened where those present unanimously agreed that they would not allow the Orchestra to be disbanded. Klemperer gave his immediate support, and on 17 March 1964 the Orchestra elected their own governing body and adopted the name New Philharmonia Orchestra. The inaugural concert of the New Philharmonia Orchestra under its own auspices took place on 27 October 1964. It was a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, conducted by Klemperer, who was now honorary president of the orchestra. From 1966 until 1972 the chairman of the orchestra was the principal flautist, Gareth Morris.
The orchestra gave many more live performances after it became self-governing than it had under Legge's stewardship. Continuing as the New Philharmonia Orchestra, it reacquired the rights to the name “Philharmonia Orchestra” in 1977, and has been known by that name since.
Klemperer retired from conducting in 1971, but was officially still its principal conductor until his death in 1973. For those two intervening years, Lorin Maazel held the post of associate principal conductor (1971-1973), and was effectively the principal conductor. Riccardo Muti was principal conductor from 1973 to 1982. Giuseppe Sinopoli succeeded Muti, from 1984 to 1994. In 1997, Christoph von Dohnányi became Principal Conductor, and served until 2008, at which time he took on the title of Honorary Conductor for Life of the orchestra. In November 2006, the orchestra announced the appointment of Esa-Pekka Salonen as the orchestra's fifth Principal Conductor., effective with the 2008-2009 season. Salonen has often conducted the orchestra in concerts and records over a period of more than twenty years, and also served as principal guest conductor of the Philharmonia from 1985 to 1994.
The Philharmonia is one of the most recorded orchestras in the world, with over one thousand recordings. It has also been heard on the soundtracks of many films, performing the musical scores of such classics as Laurence Olivier's 1944 film version of Shakespeare's Henry V, and David Lean's film version of Oliver Twist (1948).