As the fifth-oldest orchestra in the United States, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra 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 soon to be US 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 US premiere of Mahler’s 5th Symphony.
For three years the orchestra disbanded because of labor and financial problems, and upon its reorganization in 1909, a young organist from England named Leopold Stokowski was named conductor. After Stokowski the orchestra enjoyed an evolution which gained them national prominence under conductors such as Ernst Kunwald (1912- 1918), the great 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 US premiere of Mahler’s 3rd Symphony (1912), its first recordings (1917), first national tours and the world premiere of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man.
After Goossens came Thor Johnson (1947- 1958), then Max Rudolf (1958-1970), who mark of musicianship still reflects 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 Schipper’s death, Walter Susskind served as artistic advisor of the orchestra for three years before his own death in 1980.
That same year, the German conductor Michael Gielen became conductor (1980-1986), and following him the Spanish conductor Jesus Lopez-Cobos (1986-2001). The current music director is the Estonian born Paavo Järvi, son of Neeme Järvi. 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.