In 1894, several epochal events occurred. Working with inventor Thomas Edison, William Kennedy Dickson received a patent for a new technology: motion picture film. In Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, Frederick Douglass delivered his “The Lessons of the Hour” speech, which addressed how the shameful legacy of slavery endured decades after the Civil War. Congress passed an act establishing Labor Day—the first Monday in September—as a legal holiday. In Pennsylvania, a guy named Hershey started a chocolate company. In New Haven, Connecticut, a group of amateur musicians prevailed upon Morris Steinert, an immigrant from Germany, to form a symphony orchestra —and the New Haven Symphony, still going strong, is about to head into its 130th year.
The roster below charts significant anniversaries that League-member orchestras and business partners are marking in the 2023-24 season. It’s quite a document: a slew of decennial (10 years), quinsexagennial (65 years), and quasquicentennial (125 years) anniversaries. It’s also a chronicle of where and when orchestras across the country got their starts. (In 2017, the League of American Orchestras marked decades of service at its own 75th anniversary—which is called a semisesquicentennial or demisesquicentennial, wonderfully sesquipedalian terms that recall the hemidemisemiquavers of British musical notation.)
Though it’s a “just the facts” list, this chronology says something about this country, about the ways that widely disparate communities literally banded together to found orchestras and support live orchestral music—and the musicians who make it. An orchestra can become a town’s cultural hallmark, a tent pole, an essential amenity signifying that a city has “arrived.”
This list speaks to a perhaps uniquely American optimism. People just keep starting orchestras: the youngest organizations in this list were founded as recently as 2013, and new ensembles are forming every year. And as the country moves forward, orchestras continue to change and adapt with the times, seeking to end the historic exclusion of entire swaths of society and reflect the world we live in now.
Looking at the list, you have to wonder: what culture-quake was happening in Colorado 100 years ago? The Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Fort Collins Symphony Orchestra, and Lamont Symphony Orchestra all started then. So did orchestras in places as far afield as Oregon (the Portland Youth Philharmonic) and upstate New York (the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra). Meanwhile, the Cleveland Orchestra, founded just a few years earlier in 1918, embraced cutting-edge tech and began issuing commercial recordings, and the New York Philharmonic, founded all the way back in 1842, launched its Young People’s Concerts—a prescient move that looked ahead to future audiences. All of these organizations are still alive and kicking.
Hats off and a standing “o” for these League members as they celebrate noteworthy anniversaries during the 2023-24 season.
The list was developed based on submissions by League members and information from the League’s database. If your League-member organization is missing from the list, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with “Anniversary” in the subject line.
Seattle Symphony (WA),
also celebrating the 25th anniversary of Benaroya Hall.
Amarillo Symphony (TX)
The Cleveland Orchestra (OH),
celebrating 100 years of commercial recording.
Fort Smith Symphony (AR)
New York Philharmonic (NY),
celebrating 100 years of Young People’s Concerts.
Grant Park Music Festival Orchestra and Chorus (IL),
celebrating the Festival’s 90th season, Music Director Carlos Kalmar’s 25th and final season, and the 20th anniversary of Millennium Park and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the Festival’s performance venue.
Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (Canada),
also celebrating the 10th anniversary of the OSM’s organ, Grand Orgue Pierre-Béique.
Peninsula Symphony (CA)
Sarasota Orchestra (FL),
also celebrating the Sarasota Music Festival’s 60th anniversary.
Adelphi Orchestra (NJ)
Orchestra Nova LA (CA),
formerly Los Angeles Doctors Orchestra.
Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra (Brazil)
Omaha Area Youth Orchestras (NE),
also celebrating 25 years with Music Director Aviva Segall.
Boston Baroque (MA)
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra (Hong Kong)
Palm Beach Symphony (FL)
The Venice Symphony (FL)
Victoria Symphony (TX)
Glens Falls Symphony (NY)
Magic Philharmonic (ID)
San Francisco Symphony (CA),
celebrating the San Francisco Symphony Chorus’s 40th anniversary.
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (GA),
celebrating the 30th anniversary of ASO’s Talent Development Program (and founder Azira Hill’s 100th birthday).
Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra (MA),
celebrating the 30th anniversary of Music Director Steven Karidoyanes.
Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra (WI),
celebrating the 20th anniversary of Community Partnership Programs.
Muscatine Symphony Orchestra (IA),
celebrating Brian Dollinger’s 20th season as Music Director and Conductor.
Reno Pops Orchestra (NV),
celebrating Jane Brown’s 20th season as Music Director and Conductor.
South Dakota Symphony Orchestra (SD),
celebrating Delta David Gier’s 20th season as Music Director.