Baltimore Symphony Orchestra


Active: February 11, 1916

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was established as a municipal ensemble with funding from local government agencies. The orchestra's first concert took place at the Lyric Theatre on February 11, 1916; its players were mostly local musicians joined by a few members of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Gustav Strube was appointed the group's first musical director in 1917. During his 13-year tenure, the number of concerts gradually increased, children's concerts were established in 1924, and several famous artists and guest conductors were attracted, including Siegfried Wagner, son of the composer. Strube's departure in 1930 resulted in a period of uncertainty for the orchestra, worsened by the national depression. His successor was George Siemonn, who worked vigorously for increased municipal funding and for the introduction of new compositions at concerts. He also conducted the orchestra's historic first radio broadcast concerts. Ernest Schelling was appointed music director in 1935 and became the first BSO conductor to lead a performance of Handel's Messiah during Christmas week. Following Schelling, Werner Janssen was appointed music director in 1937. He would become well-known for his film scores, which included Jean Renoir's 1945 The Southerner and the Marx Brothers' 1946 comedy A Night in Casablanca. He was succeeded by Harold Barlow in 1939, but neither of these two conductors could overcome the financial and morale problems plaguing the orchestra. In 1942, the director of Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory, Reginald Stewart, was appointed music director of the BSO. A talented pianist and conductor, the Scottish-born Stewart initiated many changes. By 1945, with the help of Eleanor Roosevelt and Met star Rosa Ponselle, the orchestra's size was increased to 90 members, its schedule of concerts expanded, and its repertory broadened. By the early 1950s, however, deficits and other problems precipitated Stewart's resignation and the departure of several orchestra members. Italian conductor Massimo Freccia took the reins in 1952 and immediately set diligently to work for solutions to the many difficulties facing the orchestra. He often presented concert versions of operas and conducted other large-scale works, drawing in sizable audiences. Peter Herman Adler succeeded Freccia in 1959. Under his directorship, regular subscription concerts and youth and children's concerts substantially increased and numerous new compositions were presented or premiered. In 1964, the orchestra began performing with the Baltimore Civic Opera Company. Romanian-born Sergiu Comissiona was appointed music director in 1968 by philanthropist Joseph Meyerhoff, who had become president of the symphony orchestra organization three years earlier. These two figures guided the orchestra to some of its greatest artistic triumphs, as well as to financial stability over the next decade and a half. Comissiona made numerous recordings with the orchestra and led many successful tours abroad. Meyerhoff donated $10.5 million toward the construction of a new hall, covering nearly half its final cost. The orchestra gave its first concert in Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on September 16, 1982. American David Zinman, previously conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, was appointed music director in 1985 and maintained the high standards set during the Comissiona era. He also made numerous recordings, and the orchestra began regular radio broadcasts in 1986. Zinman and the BSO won several Grammy awards, the first in 1987 in a collaborative effort with Yo-Yo Ma featuring cello concertos by Britten and Barber. Russian conductor Yuri Temirkanov succeeded Zinman in 1999. Temirkanov and the orchestra are frequently heard on NPR's Performance Today and regularly make recordings.

There are 61 Baltimore Symphony Orchestra recordings available.

See All Recordings, or browse by Composer, Conductor, Label, or Formats & Featured