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 2016-2017 season saw the Columbus Symphony continue to engage diverse and growing audiences from throughout central Ohio. Features of the season included Twisted 2, our second major collaboration with BalletMet and Opera Columbus; the introduction of the new Summer Night Music classical series; “A Symphonic Evening of Hip-Hop featuring Common” during Picnic with the Pops, which completely sold out; and a free community performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in the Columbus Commons.

The Columbus Symphony was a proud recipient of an Experience Columbus EXPY Award for the fifth anniversary of Picnic with the Pops in the Columbus Commons in 2016.

CSO History