The New York Philharmonic, an indisputable giant among the world's orchestras, is the oldest symphony organization in the United States.
Though amateur orchestras had cropped up in New York in the eighteenth century, none proved durable. On April 2, 1842, however, Ureli Corelli Hill called the first organizational meeting of the Philharmonic Symphony Society of New York, planting the seeds of the New York Philharmonic. The organization was a cooperative, to which the players paid dues and then shared profits. The Philharmonic Society commenced its inaugural season on December 7, 1842, with 50 players and a first-year schedule of four concerts.
By 1867, the size of the orchestra had grown to 100 players, and in that year the ensemble moved to the Academy of Music. By the late nineteenth century, the Philharmonic Society was only one among a number of orchestras in New York. In 1867, Theodore Thomas founded his own orchestra, which remained in existence until 1891. In 1878 Leopold Damrosch established the New York Symphony, which was the favorite among upper-crust New Yorkers, and which was chosen to open Carnegie Hall in 1891. The Philharmonic Society also faced competition from the Boston Symphony, which from 1887 gave regular New York concerts (and still does).
In 1909 the Philharmonic was reconstituted, at last becoming a full-time professional organization; the players were now employees. Under this new arrangement, renowned German composer/conductor Gustav Mahler became the new ensemble's first music director, a post he held until 1911. In 1921 the orchestra combined forces with the still-wet-behind-the-ears New/National Symphony Orchestra, marking the beginning of a series of "takeovers" that continually strengthened the group's performing forces. In 1927, the Philharmonic merged with Damrosch's New York Symphony Society (now conducted by the founder's son, Walter Damrosch). The new organization emerged as the Philharmonic-Symphony Society Orchestra of New York and is today known as the New York Philharmonic.
In 1922, the Philharmonic became the first major orchestra to broadcast live on the radio; today it is the only American orchestra with a regular live national radio network. The ensemble has recorded extensively, and its roster of recording-era conductors and music directors is indeed stellar: among others, Arturo Toscanini, Bruno Walter, Leopold Stokowski, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Pierre Boulez, and Zubin Mehta shepherded the orchestra to ever greater heights. The most spectacular of the Philharmonic's music directors was Leonard Bernstein, who led the group from 1958 to 1969 and maintained a lifetime relationship with the orchestra after his tenure. Bernstein's televised Young People's Concerts and hundreds of recordings with the orchestra did more to establish the Philharmonic's worldwide "brand identification" than any public relations firm could have achieved. Bernstein also oversaw the orchestra's change of homes from Carnegie Hall to Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall). The Philharmonic's music director from 1991 to 2002, Kurt Masur, restored the orchestra to the highest technical level and specialized in the classic European repertory, while occasionally presenting the new and unusual. In the 2002-2003 season, Lorin Maazel became music director. He was in the later stages of his career, and jockeying for the chance to succeed him in this choicest of all American plum posts began soon after he was named.