The Minnesota Orchestra, one of the leading American orchestras, has often been referred to as the "orchestra on wheels" because of its extensive touring. Its first tour occurred in the spring of 1907, a mere three and a half years after its formation. National tours soon led to world tours. When not on tour, the Orchestra's home was at the Minneapolis Auditorium until 1930, when they moved to the Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota. The Orchestra's present home, Orchestra Hall, was constructed on the site of the original Minneapolis Auditorium and opened in 1974.
The Minnesota Orchestra was known as the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra throughout much of its existence. The change in name reflects its evolution from a local metropolitan orchestra to one embraced by the entire state of Minnesota. The Minnesota Orchestra, like so many others, has its roots in local, amateur choral and instrumental ensembles. Emil Oberhoffer, director of the Philharmonic Club ensemble, sought the funds to found a permanent orchestra. With a group of the Danz Orchestra to form the core of the orchestra, his efforts came to fruition with the inaugural performance of the 60-member Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra on November 5, 1903.
The Orchestra has had nine music directors since its inception. The first, Emil Oberhoffer, directed the Orchestra until 1922. During his 19-year tenure, he oversaw the development of the Orchestra into a nationally acclaimed and well-traveled ensemble. Upon Oberhoffer's retirement, Henri Verbrugghen was selected to lead the Orchestra. Under his direction, the Orchestra performed its first radio broadcast in 1923, and made their first recordings. Besides expanding their classical repertoire, he introduced new music by the avante-garde of the time: Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Honegger. Shortly after completing the 1930-1931 season, Verbrugghen was stricken with a cerebral hemorrhage.
Verbrugghen's successor was Eugene Ormandy. His talent and drive, which earned him acclaim as a "young genius," likened to Toscanini and Stokowski, is credited with seeing the Orchestra successfully through America's great depression. Ormandy stayed with the Orchestra only a few short years. He left in 1936 and was replaced by Dmitri Mitropoulos.
Under Mitropoulos the Orchestra furthered its exploration of progressive music, particularly that of Schoenberg, Berg, and Krenek. But they also featured such Romantics as Schumann and Mendelssohn. Although Mitropoulos was criticized for his rather unorthodox programming, paying little heed to audience desires or balance between traditionalists and progressives, he succeeded in earning a worldwide recognition for the Orchestra.
Mitropoulos left the Orchestra in 1949 and was replaced by Antal Dorati. During his 11 years with the orchestra, Dorati programmed performances with local choruses, directed their first television appearances, and, in 1957, led them on a world tour to Europe, the Middle East, and India, sponsored by the State Department.
Stanislaw Skrowaczewski assumed the role of director when Dorati left in 1960. Under Skrowaczewski, the Orchestra expanded both its membership and its season, now performing 50 weeks a year. During his tenure, in 1968, the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra became The Minnesota Orchestra. He presided over numerous special events, including the 1965 concert at the United Nations on Human Rights Day and Stravinsky's guest appearance in 1966. The Orchestra was rewarded twice with the ASCAP award for programming of contemporary music.
Neville Marriner became the seventh director in 1979. Marriner led the Orchestra through extensive recordings and, in 1980, began national weekly radio broadcasts. He turned the directorship over to Edo de Waart in 1986, who in turn relinquished the role to Eiji Oue in 1995. Osmo Vänskä was name music director in 2003. The Orchestra remains "the orchestra on wheels" with a European tour completed in the 2000 season.