Boston Symphony Orchestra

Now in its 142th season, the Boston Symphony Orchestra gave its inaugural concert in 1881, realizing the dream of its founder, the civil war veteran, businessman and philanthropist Henry Lee Higginson, who envisioned a great and permanent orchestra in his hometown of Boston. Today the BSO reaches millions of listeners, not only through its concert performances in Boston and at Tanglewood, but also via the internet, radio, television, educational programmes, recordings, and tours. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the BSO established its streaming platform, BSO NOW, extending the orchestra's offerings to a worldwide audience.

In May 2013, the Boston Symphony Orchestra began a new chapter in its history when the internationally acclaimed young Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons was announced as the BSO’s next music director, a position he took up in the 2014-15 season. Now in his ninth season as BSO Music Director, Maestro Nelsons has led the BSO in Grammy Award-winning recordings and on notable tours. He initiated a historic alliance between the BSO and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, of which he became Gewandhauskapellmeister in 2018.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra commissions works from today's most important composers; its summer season at Tanglewood is among the world's most important music festivals; it helps to develop future audiences through BSO Youth Concerts and educational outreach programmes involving the entire Boston community; and, during the Tanglewood season, it operates the Tangle wood Music Center, one of the world's most important training grounds for young professional-caliber musicians. The Boston Symphony Chamber Players, made up of BSO principals, are known worldwide, and the Boston Pops Orchestra sets an international standard for performances of lighter music.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra gave its inaugural concert on October 22, 1881, under Georg Herschel, who remained as conductor until 1884. For nearly twenty years, BSO concerts were held in the old Boston Music Hall; the Symphony Hall, one of the world's most revered concert halls, opened on October 15, 1900. Herschel was succeeded by the German-born and -trained conductors Wilhelm Gerick, Arthur Nikesh, Emil Pair, and Max Fiedler, culminating in the appointment of the legendary Karl Muck, who served two tenures, 1906-08 and 1912-18. In 1915 the orchestra made its first transcontinental trip, playing thirteen concerts at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Henri Rabid, engaged as conductor in 1918, was succeeded a year later by Pierre Monteux. These appointments marked the beginning of a French tradition maintained, even during the Russian-born Serge Koussevitzky's tenure (1924–1949), with the employment of many French-trained musicians. It was in 1936 that Koussevitzky led the orchestra's first concerts in the Berkshires; he and the players took up annual summer residence at Tanglewood a year later. Koussevitzky passionately shared Major Higginson's dream of "a good honest school for musicians," and in 1940 that dream was realized with the founding of the Berkshire Music Center (now called the Tangle wood Music Center). In summer 2019 educational offerings at Tanglewood were expanded via the inaugural season of the Tanglewood Learning Institute in the new Linde Center for Music and Learning, a four-building, multi-use complex that also provides additional concert and rehearsal space for the Tanglewood Music Center.

Koussevitzky was succeeded in 1949 by Charles Munch, who led the BSO on its first international tours. In 1956 the BSO was the first American orchestra to tour the Soviet Union. Erich Leinsdorf followed Munch in 1962; William Steinberg began his relatively brief tenure in 1969. Seiji Ozawa became the BSO’s thirteenth music director in 1973. His historic twenty-nine-year tenure extended until 2002, when he was named Music Director Laureate. In 1979, the BSO, under the direction of Seiji Ozawa, was the first American orchestra to tour mainland China after the normalization of relations. The first American-born conductor to hold the position, James Levine was the BSO’s music director from 2004 to 2011.

Today, the Boston Symphony Orchestra continues to fulfill and expand upon the vision of its founder Henry Lee Higginson, to bring a world-class musical experience to the people of Boston.

As of October 2022

Boston Symphony Orchestra

© Marco Borggreve

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