Challenging ourselves to reach higher
Mission: To seek and share inspiration.
Vision: We will engage audiences and community better than any other orchestra in the world.
- Determined for Greatness
- A Place of Experimentation
- Cincinnati’s Ambassador
- Cincinnati’s Own
Founded in 1895, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is the
fifth oldest orchestra in the United States and represents
the evolution of 200 years of musical tradition in the Queen
At the end of the 18th century, when Haydn and Beethoven were
still living, Cincinnati was little more than a village surrounding
old Fort Washington. A "select band" of soldiers
stationed at the fort would present concerts for the early
settlers, pioneers who had pushed west-ward over the Allegheny
Mountains. The Western Spy, a newspaper of the time,
mentioned a memorial celebration in honor of Gen. George Washington
at which the band played a goodly number of martial airs.
An early writer wrote of another celebration that "a
band of music accompanied them [the reveling settlers] with
the harmonies of Gluck and Haydn."
With the 19th century and the arrival of many German settlers,
numerous musical organizations were established in the "Queen
City of the West." The Harmonical Society was a brass
band of local talent, and the Apollonian Society, with 40
members, promoted "the cultivation of vocal and instrumental
music." In 1825 Joseph Tosso, a young graduate of the
Paris Conservatory, arrived to direct an orchestra assembled
for a reception in General Lafayette's honor. Tosso remained
and organized the Orchestra of the Musical Fund Society. About
the same time, the Eclectic Academy was founded. The Midwest's
first Sängerfest took place in Cincinnati in 1842 at
the old Armory Hall.
The Philharmonic Society and the
first May Festival
The Philharmonic Society, Cincinnati's first orchestra of
professional musicians, presented three seasons of concerts
between 1857 and 1860. But then enthusiasm ebbed until 1872,
when Theodore Thomas appeared with his touring orchestra.
He returned in 1873 to create an American festival of choral
and instrumental works, the first May Festival. Music Hall,
today a national historical landmark, was dedicated in 1878
at the third May Festival.
The Cincinnati Orchestra
In December of 1872, the Cincinnati Orchestra gave its
first concerts. Musicians from that group, led by Michael
Brand, later served as the nucleus for the Cincinnati Symphony
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra,
On January 17, 1895 Frank Van der Stucken conducted
the first concert of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. The
Cincinnati Orchestra Association Company, founded by 15 enthusiastic
women under the presidency of Mrs. William Howard Taft, sponsored
nine concerts by the 48-man orchestra in the first season.
Concerts that season and the next were presented at Pike's
Opera House, and in 1896 the orchestra, which then numbered
60, moved to Music Hall.
Frank Van der Stucken, born in Texas of Belgian-German parentage,
continued as music director until 1907. During the orchestra's
exciting early years, Richard Strauss was a guest conductor,
Edward MacDowell performed his own piano concerto, and the
orchestra presented the American premiere of Mahler's Symphony
Financial and labor difficulties caused the orchestra to disband
in 1907. But the Orchestra Association campaigned to raise
funds and, in 1909, largely through the efforts of Mrs. Charles
P. Taft, engaged Leopold Stokowski to come as director
of a handpicked orchestra of 77 men. During his three-year
tenure the orchestra hosted Busoni and Rachmaninoff and presented
its first "popular concerts."
In 1911 the orchestra moved to the new Emery Auditorium. And
in 1912 Ernst Kunwald, former conductor of the Berlin
Philharmonic, arrived. Under his directorship the CSO made
its first recording for Columbia in 1917. Eugène
Ysaÿe, the legendary Belgian violin virtuoso, was
music director from 1918 to 1922, and the orchestra flourished
under his leadership.
During his nine years as music director, from 1922 to 1931, Fritz Reiner presented the American premieres of works
by Ravel, Debussy, and Respighi. He introduced Béla
Bartók to Cincinnati, leading this country's premiere
of Bartók's Piano Concerto No. 1, with the composer
Goossens, who was later knighted by Queen Elizabeth, succeeded
Reiner in 1931. With a British flair for conducting large,
massed choral and instrumental works, he led many brilliant
May Festival performances and conducted the CSO in fully-staged
opera and ballet performances. By 1936 the orchestra had outgrown
Emery Auditorium and returned to Music Hall (pictured, 1936).
Maestro Goossens is also well known for having invited various
composers to submit Fanfares to be performed at subscription concerts, including the beloved Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland.
American-born and -trained Thor Johnson became music
director in 1947. During his 11 years in Cincinnati he conducted
the premieres of 120 American and European works, half of
which he commissioned.
Johnson was succeeded in 1958 by Max Rudolf, former
conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, who led the CSO on a
memorable 10-week world tour in 1966 (under the auspices of
the United States Department of State) and a four-week European
tour in 1969. In 1965 Erich Kunzel (then assistant conductor)
took charge of the Eight O'Clock Pops concerts, and in 1967
the Concerts in the Parks were initiated. A beautifully refurbished
Music Hall provided the setting for the orchestra's 75th anniversary
celebration during the 1969-70 season.
In 1970 the CSO welcomed Thomas Schippers as music
director. His broad background of experience included the
directorship of the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy,
as well as engagements with the opera houses of La Scala,
Vienna, Bayreuth, and the Metropolitan Opera, and the philharmonics
of New York, London, Israel, and Berlin. Until his untimely
death in 1977, he brought glamour as well as a high standard
of excellence to the orchestra.
From 1978 to 1980 Walter Susskind served as music advisor
to the orchestra, drawing upon his vast experience as music
director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Aspen Festival,
and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, and as guest conductor
of many of the world's great orchestras.
Michael Gielen was named CSO music director in September
1980. His artistic leadership through six seasons continued
to assure the CSO's prominence on a national and international
level. Gielen and the CSO introduced a number of important
world, American, and CSO premieres both in Cincinnati and
on tour, including appearances at Carnegie Hall.
An exciting new dimension was added to the orchestra in 1984,
with the opening of Riverbend Music Center-officially The
Hulbert Taft, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, J. Ralph
Corbett Pavilion. Riverbend, located on the banks of the Ohio
River, has attracted national attention for its post-modernist
design by architect Michael Graves.
Appointed Music Director of the CSO in 1986, Jesús
López-Cobos led the orchestra into a new era of
international acclaim. He retired from the orchestra in August
2001 after 15 seasons, the longest tenure of any Music Director
in the history of the CSO. He became Music Director Emeritus
of the CSO in September 2001. Under his leadership, the orchestra
enjoyed critical and artistic praise for its live performances
and recordings, as well as tour appearances throughout the
United States. He led the orchestra in a highly praised 20-city
European tour in 1995 (the orchestra’s first since 1969)
in celebration of the orchestra’s centennial season.
Under his direction the orchestra also appeared at the prestigious
Casals Festival in 1998. During the 2000–2001 season
he again led the orchestra to Europe for concerts in his native
Spain and in Poland and Germany. Also under his leadership,
the orchestra’s first national telecast appeared in
1997 on PBS-TV, featuring guest pianist Alicia de Larrocha
and the music of Ravel, Dvorvák and Falla. Jesús
The Estonian-born Paavo Järvi began his tenure with the CSO in September 2001. Under his direction, the CSO toured throughout North America, Europe and Japan, performed nationally televised concerts, and recorded an extensive discography. He concluded his highly successful tenure as the Orchestra’s 12th Music Director in May 2011, at which point he was named Music Director Laureate Paavo Järvi's biography.
The CSO also presents year-round family, community and education programs and concerts under the direction of Associate Conductor Robert Treviño (biography), and Assistant Conductor William White (biography); concerts in this category include Young People’s concerts and the Classical Roots series. In addition, the CSO serves as the official orchestra of the annual May Festival and Cincinnati Opera and, for more than three decades as the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, first under Pops Founder and Conductor Emeritus, Erich Kunzel (tribute page) and currently under Pops Conductor John Morris Russell (biography). The Pops presents 20 Pops concerts as well as Lollipops Family Concerts in Music Hall, and performs summer concerts at Riverbend under Mr. Russell and top guest conductors.
The CSO named Louis Langrée as Music Director starting in the Orchestra’s 2013-14 season. Mr. Langrée, an acclaimed conductor who has led riveting performances on five continents, is entering his 10th season as Music Director of the prestigious Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center in New York. Mr. Langrée will be the CSO’s thirteenth Music Director and the first to hail from France. Louis Langrée’s biography.