Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra


Active: 1895
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is the fifth oldest orchestra in the United States, and for most of its history has been one of the best orchestras in the country.

Founded in 1788, Cincinnati is a riverport city along the Ohio River, in the U.S. Midwest. The city and the areas around it became a major center of immigration from Germany and Switzerland in the 1840s. In 1849 the German communities of Cincinnati, Madison (Indiana), and Louisville (Kentucky) held the first Cincinnati Sängerfest, with a small orchestra and a combined choir of 118 voices. Subsequent Sängerfest events were held annually thereafter in various regional cities, returning to Cincinnati regularly. A Philharmonic Society was founded in 1857, but foundered in 1860.

In 1869, Theodore Thomas, the great German-born orchestra builder, took his new orchestra on its first U.S. tour and included Cincinnati. On his next visit to Cincinnati, the city asked him to run an expanded music festival for 1873, and he put together an 800-voice choir and 108-piece orchestra and held a one-week festival in May. This led to a biennial May Festival, with Thomas as its director. The city built a handsome brick Music Hall to serve as the Festival's home, opening it in 1878.

The Cincinnati Orchestra was formed in 1872 under Michael Brand and augmented Thomas' own orchestra for the biennial May Festivals. The Cincinnati Orchestra Association was founded in 1895 and took the existing Cincinnati Orchestra as the nucleus for its new Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, a forty-eight piece ensemble. The first music director was Frank Van der Stucken, who served from the orchestra's founding until it was disbanded in 1907 when the Association refused to meet the demands of the new musicians' union.

The Association worked to raise money to re-establish the orchestra. Its president, Mrs. Charles P. Taft, successfully lobbied to hire the young British conductor Leopold Stokowski as conductor, permitting him to handpick the new seventy-seven-member orchestra in 1909. Stokowski stayed for only three years, but built a superb orchestra and established the orchestra's permanent tradition. Ernst Kunwald (1912 - 1918) presided over the orchestra's first recording, for Columbia in 1917. Legendary Belgian violinist Eugene ?saye was music director from 1918 to 1922 and made the Stokowski-derived string sound even richer and more secure. His successor Fritz Reiner (1922 - 1931) instilled sharp discipline and gave Cincinnati some of the first American performances of works of Béla Bartók. Eugene Goosens, a charismatic English conductor, served from 1931 to 1946. He commissioned a series of wartime fanfares that included Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man.

His successor was American Thor Johnson (1947 - 1958) who was known for his support of American music, and after him, the highly respected conductor and conducting teacher Max Rudolf (1958 - 1970) continued the orchestra's fine disciplinary standards. During his tenure, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra was formed under assistant conductor Erich Kunzel, still a highly popular combination. Also under Rudolf, the orchestra, under State Department auspices, became the first U.S. orchestra to undertake a world tour, and the May Festival was made an annual event.

Thomas Schippers, a brilliant American, took the podium in 1970, serving until his untimely death in 1977. The prominent German conductor Michael Gielen served from 1980 to 1986, increasing the orchestra's modern music repertory, and from 1986 to 2001, Jesús Lopez-Cobos was music director, with a flair for brilliant and colorful performances. Paavo Järvi became music director in 2001.

The orchestra makes its home in Music Hall, giving fifty-two subscription performances a year and twenty pops concerts, as well as the popular Concerts in the Park and other outreach performances.

There are 51 Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra recordings available.

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