Our History

Learn more about the rich and storied histories of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and its 13 Music Directors, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, and the National Historic Landmark Music Hall.
View a timeline in honor of the CSO's 125th Anniversary in the 2019/20 season.

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, which also performs as the Cincinnati Pops, celebrated its 125th anniversary in the 2019-20 season. One of America’s finest and most versatile ensembles, the internationally acclaimed CSO attracts the best musicians, artists and conductors from around the world to Cincinnati. With new commissions and groundbreaking initiatives like LUMENOCITY, the MusicNOW Festival collaboration, and CSO Proof, the Orchestra is committed to being a place of experimentation.

Louis Langrée began his tenure as the CSO's 13th Music Director in the 2013-14 season with a celebrated program The New York Times said “deftly combined nods to the orchestra's history, the city's musical life and new music.” Over the Orchestra's 126-year history, it has also been led by Leopold Stokowski, Eugène Ysaÿe, Fritz Reiner, Eugene Goossens, Max Rudolf, Thomas Schippers, Jesús López Cobos, and Paavo Järvi, among others.

A champion of new music, the Orchestra has given American premieres of works by such composers as Debussy, Ravel, Mahler and Bartók and has commissioned works that have since become mainstays of the classical repertoire, including Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. The CSO was the first orchestra to be broadcast to a national radio audience (1921) and the third to record (1917). The Orchestra continues to commission new works and to program an impressive array of music. In recent years, the CSO has performed the world premieres by Nico Muhly, David LangCaroline Shaw and Daniel Bjarnason as part of the groundbreaking collaboration with the MusicNOW Festival, as well world premieres from André Previn, Gunther Schuller, Michael Fiday, T. J. Cole, Jonathan Bailey Holland and Kristin Kuster. 

The CSO was the first American orchestra to make a world tour sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and continues to tour domestically and internationally, most recently to Asia in March 2017 and a celebrated three-week European tour in August and September 2017 that included debuts at the BBC Proms, Edinburgh International Festival and the Quincena Musical de San Sebastián. The CSO has performed at New York's Carnegie Hall 48 times since its debut there in 1917, most recently to rave reviews in May of 2014. In January of 2016, the Orchestra performed at New York’s Lincoln Center as part of the invitational Great Performers series.

The CSO is Cincinnati's own and committed to enhancing and expanding music education for the children of Greater Cincinnati and works to bring music education, in its many different forms, to as broad a public as possible. Education and outreach programs currently serve more than 80,000 individuals annually.

In 2015, the Orchestra announced the CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship, a nationally recognized program in partnership with the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Born out of a mutual desire to make American orchestras more inclusive, this groundbreaking, two-year fellowship program just graduated its fifth class and welcomes its sixth class of four post-graduate fellows to Cincinnati in the fall of 2021.

CSO Music Directors

Cincinnati Pops Orchestra

The Cincinnati Pops, which also performs as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, presents a diverse array of musical styles, all bathed in the world-renowned “Cincinnati Sound.” The Pops was officially founded in 1977 with the late Erich Kunzel as Conductor, and just since 1980, the Orchestra has sold ten million recordings around the globe. Conductor John Morris Russell has led the Pops since 2011. (Learn more about John Morris Russell.) 

The growing list of celebrated artists who have collaborated with the Pops include Ella Fitzgerald, Frederica von Stade, Doc Severinsen, Henry Mancini, Aretha Franklin, Mel Tormé, Kristin Chenoweth, Jennifer Holliday, Vanessa Williams, Dave Brubeck, Audra McDonald, The Temptations, John Williams, Idina Menzel, Smokey Robinson, Rosemary Clooney, Mandy Patinkin, Arturo Sandoval, Peter Frampton, Boyz II Men, Bernadette Peters, Lea Salonga, Rhiannon Giddens, Ben Folds, Rosanne Cash, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

The Pops tours nationally and internationally, most recently in Shanghai and Taiwan for acclaimed performances in March 2017 and Florida for Holiday season performances in December 2014. The Pops traveled to Beijing as part of the Opening Festivities of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, and in 2005, the Pops completed a historical tour to China and Singapore performing in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The Cincinnati Pops was the first U.S. Pops orchestra to perform in China, and also has appeared to enthusiastic audiences in New York’s Carnegie Hall, in Washington D.C., and Japan.

An estimated 30 million people have viewed national telecasts of the Cincinnati Pops on PBS, and the Orchestra has more than 100 available recordings, 55 of which have appeared on the Billboard charts, a record unmatched by any other orchestra. The Pops’ Copland: Music of America won a Grammy in 1997, and four other Pops recordings have been nominated for Grammy Awards.

In 2012, the Pops released its first recording under John Morris Russell, Home for the Holidays, on the Orchestra’s own Fanfare Cincinnati label. Subsequent recordings Superheroes! and Carnival of the Animals reached #8 and #15, respectively, on the Billboard charts. The most recent Pops release, American Originals, received national critical and widespread acclaim for its reimagining of the Stephen Foster songbook and American Originals: 1918, which explores, celebrates and reimagines American music of the World War I era. In the spring of 2016, the Pops unveiled American Soundscapes, an online video series that features Pops performances captured live. It has already reached nearly half a million viewers around the world.

Music Hall

For a history of Music Hall 1878 to present, visit the website of the Friends of Music Hall.