The Seattle Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1903, its first concert taking place December 29 that year at Christensen's Hall, led by violinist/conductor Harry West. The ensemble consisted of just 24 musicians that night but expanded to 52 in 1907 when the Seattle Symphony Society was established and incorporated. That organization appointed a new conductor, Michael Kegrize, and the orchestra was given a new home the following year at the newly built Moore Theatre. In 1909, Henry Hadley was appointed music director, and by the following year, he had more than doubled the number of concerts and increased the size of the ensemble to 65. He also attracted major artists to perform with the orchestra, including Fritz Kreisler and Josef Hofmann.
In 1911, John Spargur succeeded the departing Hadley, and the orchestra was renamed the Seattle Philharmonic and given a new concert venue, the Metropolitan Theatre. Continued woes plagued the orchestra, and it reorganized in 1919, reverting to its original name of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, with Spargur remaining as music director of the ensemble, now consisting of 85 musicians who performed at the University of Washington's Meany Hall. More financial and organizational problems ensued, and the group lost its professional status. Madame Davenport-Engberg led the Seattle Symphony from 1921 until 1923, but the orchestra had to disband at the end of her tenure. In 1926, it reorganized once more when Karl Krueger was appointed conductor of the now 65-member ensemble. In 1932, the orchestra began its first radio broadcasts under new director Basil Cameron, but because of the national depression and other financial concerns, the season schedule had to be reduced.
From 1938 to 1954, the orchestra had five music directors, the second of these being one of the most prominent from the first half of the 20th century, Thomas Beecham (1941 to 1943). Beecham's reign produced sold-out concerts, but his jesting remarks about the orchestra's abilities created much controversy. Milton Katims was appointed music director in 1954 and introduced many new works and attracted some of the finest artists in the world, even drawing an appearance from Igor Stravinsky in 1962. Under Katims, revenues more than quadrupled, many recordings were made, and the orchestra's reputation grew in stature. Though he remained the musical director until 1979, Katims surrendered the conductorship in 1976 to Rainer Miedél. Following Miedél's death in 1983, Gerard Schwarz was appointed principal conductor in 1984, then music director in 1985. Under Schwarz, the Seattle Symphony received a string of Grammy nominations. Schwarz also introduced many new works: in the 2000-2001 season, for example, he presented four new major compositions, including Nanking! Nanking! by Bright Sheng, a U.S. premiere. On September 12, 1998, the Seattle Symphony gave its first performance in its new home at Benaroya Hall. The Seattle Symphony frequently performs with the Seattle Opera and plays for its productions of Wagner's Ring.
Ludovic Morlot succeeded Schwarz as music director in 2011. During Morlot's tenure, the Seattle Symphony won five Grammy Awards, launched the Seattle Symphony Media recording label, and was named the 2018 Orchestra of the Year by Gramophone magazine. Morlot and the orchestra commissioned and premiered Become Ocean by John Luther Adams, a recording of which earned the orchestra one of its Grammy Awards and Adams a Pulitzer Prize. Following a stint as principal guest conductor beginning in 2013, Thomas Dausgaard became the Seattle Symphony's music director in 2019. ~ Robert Cummings & Keith Finke, Rovi
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