Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

Voice/Instrument: Orchestra


As the fifth oldest orchestra in the United States, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) has a legacy of fine music making as reflected in its performances in historic Music Hall, recordings, and international tours. It represents the evolution of 200 years of music making in the city of Cincinnati, in southwestern Ohio.

After the formation of several orchestras between 1825 and 1872, the Cincinnati Orchestra Association was founded by the wife of the future U.S. President William Howard Taft in 1893. The CSO gave its first concerts in 1895 at Pike's Opera house, and a year later moved to Music Hall. The first conductor was Frank Van der Stucken, a Texas-born musician of Dutch ancestry, who served until 1907. In the early years, the orchestra welcomed such notable international figures as Richard Strauss and Edward McDowell. The orchestra also performed the U.S. premiere of the Symphony No. 5 of Gustav Mahler.

For three years the orchestra was disbanded due to labor disputes and financial problems, and upon its reorganization in 1909, a young organist from England, Leopold Stokowski, was named to lead the group. After Stokowski's three years the orchestra enjoyed an evolution which gained them national prominence under conductors such as Ernst Kunwald through 1918, the virtuoso Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe (1918–1922), Fritz Reiner (1922–1933), and Eugene Goossens (1933–1947). This period saw the orchestra move from Music Hall to Emery Auditorium in 1909, then back to Music Hall in 1936, the U.S. premiere of Mahler's Symphony No. 3 (1912), its first recordings (1917), first national tours, and the world premieres of Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man and Lincoln Portrait.

After Goossens came Thor Johnson in 1947, who led the orchestra in some of the first stereo recordings for Remington Records, followed by Max Rudolf in 1958, whose mark of musicianship is still reflected in the orchestra. Then came Thomas Schippers who died abruptly in 1977. Under Schippers, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra was formed in 1977, with Erich Kunzel as its conductor. After Schippers' death, Walter Susskind served as artistic advisor of the orchestra for three years before his own death in 1980.

That same year, the Austrian conductor Michael Gielen became conductor in 1980 for a six year term to be succeeded by Spanish conductor Jesús López-Cobos. López-Cobos led the orchestra on a very successful European tour in 1995, their first since 1969, and their first national television appearance on PBS. He retired in 2001 after the longest tenure of any CSO conductor, and was named emeritus music director in September of that year.

In addition to its many concerts given each year, the Cincinnati Symphony is the house orchestra for the Cincinnati May Festival, the oldest continuing choral festival in the Western Hemisphere.

From 2001 to 2011, the orchestra's music director was the Estonian-born Paavo Järvi. Järvi conducted his final concert as CSO Music Director on May 14, 2011, at which point he was named Music Director Laureate. With Jarvi's departure and the death of Pops great Erich Kunzel, the orchestra's artistic leadership has been a point of concern. In December 2010, John Morris Russell was named the Cincinnati Pops conductor, effective September 1, 2011. In January 2011, the Orchestra named three international musicians, pianist Lang Lang (pianist), composer Philip Glass and conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos as the Creative Directors for its three distinct subscription series during the period between Music Directors.

In January 2007, the orchestra reported financial difficulties, projecting a monetary deficit of about US$2 million for the current fiscal year. In 2009, those difficulties (plus the purchase of Telarc by the Concord Music Group) help to bring about the termination of the orchestra's contract with Telarc; the symphony and pops recording company for two decades.[2]

In 2010, the Orchestra launched its own record label, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Media. The inaugural album on the new label, "American Portraits," was released internationally in January 2011.

In late 2009, long-time arts patron and philanthropist Louise Nippert (who is also a minority owner of the Cincinnati Reds) announced a gift of $85 million dollars for the CSO. It was reported that the orchestra will receive directly about $3 million each year (around 75% of its annual distribution). Twelve percent and 5% will go to the Cincinnati Opera and Ballet companies respectively with the intent of maintaining the CSO as those company's resident "pit" orchestra. The remaining 8% (around $300,000.00) is to be passed along to other arts institutions like the Cincinnati May Festival and the Linton Chamber Music Series.

The CSO serves as the official orchestra of the Cincinnati May Festival, Opera, and Ballet companies. The Cincinnati Symphony also serves as the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra 

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