The Boston Symphony Orchestra is one of the world's most renowned orchestras. Its home base is Symphony Hall in Boston, Massachusetts, usually considered to be one of the three finest concert halls in the world.
The orchestra was founded in 1881 by Henry Lee Higginson. It went on to have several notable conductors, including Arthur Nikisch from 1889 to 1893, and Pierre Monteux from 1919 to 1924 who gave the orchestra a reputation for a "French" sound which persists to some degree to this day. However, it was under the baton of Serge Koussevitzky that the orchestra became best known.
Under Koussevitzky, the orchestra gave regular radio broadcasts and established its summer home at Tanglewood, where Koussevitzky founded the Berkshire Music Center which is now the Tanglewood Music Center. Those network radio broadcasts ran from 1926 through 1951, and again from 1954 through 1956; the orchestra continues to make regular live radio broadcasts to the present day. The Boston Symphony was closely involved with the creation of WGBH Radio as an outlet for its concerts.
Koussevitzky also commissioned many new pieces from prominent composers, including the Symphony No. 4 of Sergei Prokofiev and the Symphony of Psalms by Igor Stravinsky. They also gave the premiere of Béla Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra, which had been commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation at the instigation of Fritz Reiner and Joseph Szigeti.
Koussevitzky started a tradition that was to be continued by the orchestra with commissions by Henri Dutilleux for its 75th anniversary, Roger Sessions, and Andrzej Panufnik, for the 100th, and lately for the 125th works by Leon Kirchner, Elliott Carter, and Peter Lieberson. On other occasions, they have commissioned works from various other composers, such as John Corigliano's Symphony No. 2 for the 100th anniversary of Symphony Hall.
In 1949, Charles Münch succeeded Koussevitzky who toured with the orchestra overseas for the first time, and also produced their first stereo recording in February 1954 for RCA Victor. Münch was succeeded in 1962 by Erich Leinsdorf, who served as music director for seven years until 1969. William Steinberg was then music director from 1969 to 1973. In 1973, Seiji Ozawa took over the orchestra and remained the Music Director until 2002, the longest tenure of any Boston Symphony conductor. In 2004, James Levine became the first American-born music director ever to lead the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Violin virtuoso Willy Hess was concertmaster from 1904 to 1910. The current concertmaster is Malcolm Lowe.
The Boston Symphony also benefits from its close association with the New England Conservatory, located just one block from Symphony Hall with several graduates now occupying BSO musician seats.
An offshoot of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is the Boston Pops Orchestra, founded in 1885, which plays lighter, more popular classics, and show tunes. Arthur Fiedler was the conductor who did the most to increase the fame of the Boston Pops. Film composer John Williams succeeded Fielder as the conductor of the Pops with Keith Lockhart currently serving in that capacity.
Performing with the BSO and Boston Pops for major choral works is the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. Organized in 1970 by its founding director, John Oliver, the Chorus is comprised of two hundred fifty volunteer singers. Before the creation of the Tanglewood Chorus, and for some time after, the BSO frequently employed the New England Conservatory Chorus conducted by Lorna Cooke DeVaron, Chorus Pro Musica, Harvard Glee Club and Radcliffe Choral Society.
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