The Slovene Philharmonic traces its illustrious heritage back to the Academia Philharmonicorum, which was founded in Ljubljana in 1701 on the model of the Italian academies. The Academy chose for its emblem the organ of its patron, St. Cecilia, and its seal incorporated the motto Receat, mentique perennia monstrat (It entertains, and reveals eternal things to the mind). Its members were drawn from the aristocracy and from the town's intelligentsia, and according to reports by contemporary chroniclers, after several years of practice and with a great deal of enthusiasm the Academy began staging performing symphonic compositions by European, particularly Italian Baroque masters.
By the end of the 18th century the Academy ceased to exist. In 1794 the Philharmonische Gesellschaft (Philharmonic Society) was established, one of the first institutions of this kind within the Habsburg empire. It grew out of the string quartet of non-professional musicians. The number of musicians rose and in the beginning of the 19th century the well-versed amateurs and professional musicians were able to perform works by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. In its desire for international input into its ambitious activities the Philharmonic Society sought prominent European musicians as honorary members. The first was Joseph Haydn who gratefully presented the Society with a score of his Missa in Tempore belli. Next was Ludwig van Beethoven who sent a letter of thanks together with a transcript of the score for his Pastoral Symphony. At a later stage, honorary membership was gratefully accepted also by violinist Nicolò Paganini and by composer Johannes Brahms.
A very important phase in a three century-long history of the Slovene Philharmonic took place in the mid-19th century when a process of independent Slovene musical activities was initiated, leading to the foundation of the first independent Slovene Philharmonic Society (1908–1913) under the leadership of renown Czech conductor Václav Talich.
In the period between the two wars following Talich's departure, the activities of the Slovene Philharmonic were formally abandoned, but there were several attempts at establishing orchestral body (amateur Orchestral Society of Musical Society and Ljubljana Philharmonic). However, in 1947, on the initiative of composer Marjan Kozina, conductor Samo Hubad and musicologist Vlado Golob, a resolution was passed on the formation of the Slovene Philharmonic, with a symphony orchestra, a mixed (until 1976) and youth choir (until 1952), a string quartet and an agency which organised concerts (this became independent in 1952). The first concert by the new Slovene Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Spanish conductor Salvador Bacarisse, took place on 13 January 1948.
In 1999 the Slovenian Chamber Chorus, which had been founded in 1991 as an independent body and led by Mirko Cuderman (assisted by Marko Vatovec), became part of the institution. Out of the orchetra grew also different chamber groups: Slowind Quintet, Tartini String Quartet and Slovene Philharmonic String Chamber Orchestra.
The first director of the institution was Marjan Kozina who was followed by Lucijan Marija Škerjanc, Marjan Lipovšek, Ciril Cvetko, Darijan Božič, Anton Kolar, Marijan Gabrijelčič, Boris Šinigoj and Mojca Menart. As new honorary members were among others elected composers Uroš Krek and Primož Ramovš, musicians Dubravka Tomšič-Srebotnjak and Marjana Lipovšek and conductors Milan Horvat and Carlos Kleiber.
The site of today’s Philharmonic building was for decades dominated by the old Stanovsko gledališče (State Theatre). In 1887 the old theatre building was burnt down and new concert building was built in 1891. The preparations for the tercentenary of the Slovenian Philharmonic and its predecessors (2001/02), brought about a thorough renovation of the entire building. The restored building was inaugurated on 25 September 2001, while on 8 January 2003, on the three hundredth anniversary of the first documented performances, the newly installed organ resounded in the Great Hall for the first time.
Today performances are held at Slovene Philharmonic halls and more often at Cankarjev dom Culture and Congress Centre. The Slovene Philharmonic Hall itself incorporates two venues - the greater Kozinova dvorana (Kozina Hall) and the smaller Osterčeva dvorana (Osterc Hall).