History

History

The Columbus Symphony was founded in 1951 as the Columbus Little Symphony, governed and managed by the Women’s Association. From its earliest days, the Columbus Symphony has been committed to education and supporting young musicians, with the Youth Orchestra founded in 1953. Claude Monteux served as the Columbus Symphony’s first Music Director. 

In the 1960s, the Columbus Symphony Chorus was formed and the Pops series began. The newly-restored Ohio Theatre became the official home of the Columbus Symphony in 1970, and four years later, the Columbus Symphony began producing operas, supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

In 1981, however, the Columbus Symphony ceased production of opera in order to achieve the goal of becoming a major US orchestra, leading to the launch of Opera Columbus as an independent company. In addition to helping to start Opera Columbus, in 1984 the Columbus Symphony also helped to launch the Lancaster Festival.

The Columbus Symphony achieved major orchestra status with the League of American Orchestras in 1988, joining the 50th largest orchestras (by budget) in North America. The following year saw the release of the nationally acclaimed recording of Anything But Lonely with Peter Nero, then Principal Pops Conductor of the Columbus Symphony.

In 2001, the Columbus Symphony celebrated its 50th anniversary with a sold-out debut at Carnegie Hall. The Symphony entered into an administrative agreement with the Columbus Association of Performing Arts in 2010. Our popular summer concert series, Picnic with the Pops and Popcorn Pops, moved downtown in 2012 to the Columbus Bicentennial Pavilion at the Columbus Commons.

Rossen Milanov was named Music Director in 2014, beginning his tenure in the 2014-2015 season. The Youth Orchestra made their debut at Carnegie Hall in 2015, in a concert performed in partnership with the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Most recently, the Symphony has welcomed its first-ever woman Concertmaster, Joanna Frankel, as well as two new conductors: Stuart Chafetz, Principal Pops Conductor, and Andrés Lopera, Assistant Conductor. Our Masterworks, Pops, and Picnic with the Pops concert series continue to delight audiences with exceptional performances, while our new Summer Night Music Neighborhood Concerts are bringing the orchestra to communities throughout central Ohio.

In addition to performances, the Columbus Symphony is proud to serve central Ohio through a diverse range of education and community engagement programs. These include Young People’s Concerts in the Ohio Theatre, six youth orchestras, free In-School Concerts for Columbus elementary schools, and the new Columbus Symphony Cares initiative, an innovative approach to community service through partnerships with non-profit human service organizations and public school districts.

Each season, the Columbus Symphony serves over 150,000 central Ohioans who attend our performances and participate in our programs, generating over $14 million in economic impact for Columbus. We also reach a broader audience of over 1.6 million through radio broadcasts, online media, community festivals, and more.

CSO History