St. Louis Symphony

St. Louis Symphony

Official logo
Former name
  • St. Louis Choral-Symphony
  • Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra
Founded 1880
Concert hall Powell Hall
Principal conductor David Robertson

The St. Louis Symphony is an American symphony orchestra based in St. Louis, Missouri. Founded in 1880 by Joseph Otten as the St. Louis Choral Society, the St. Louis Symphony is the second-oldest symphony orchestra in the United States, preceded only by the New York Philharmonic. Its principal concert venue is Powell Symphony Hall.


The St. Louis Choral Society performed in the auditorium of the St. Louis Mercantile Library[1] at Locust and Broadway in Downtown St. Louis. During the 1881/82 season the 80-member chorus was joined by an orchestra of 31 members. A disbanded Musical Union joined the group. In 1893, the St. Louis Choral-Symphony was formally incorporated. It remained largely a choral organization through its performances at the 1904 World's Fair under Alfred Ernst when it expanded to a 200-member chorus and an orchestra of 55. Under Max Zach's tenure (1907 to 1921), it changed its name to the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra.

Before moving to its current home in Powell Hall, the SLSO performed for many years at the Kiel Opera House. The orchestra has given concerts regularly at Carnegie Hall and has made overseas tours to Europe and to Japan. The St. Louis Symphony has recorded for the Columbia, RCA Victor, Red Seal, Telarc, Vox/Turnabout, Angel EMI, and Nonesuch labels. It has also issued CD recordings on its own label, Arch Media, and has received seven Grammy Awards and 58 nominations. For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, the St. Louis Symphony has been the resident orchestra since 1978, divided into two ensembles, each performing two of the operas in the season.

The orchestra has an extensive education and community outreach program, known as the Community Partnership Program. SLSO musicians give several hundred free performances a year of chamber music in schools, churches and other venues, such as community centers. The orchestra has a partnership with IN UNISON, an association of 36 local African-American churches. The IN UNISON Chorus, drawn from IN UNISON churches and area residents, performs with the orchestra as well as on its own programs.[2] Also associated with the orchestra is the St. Louis Symphony Chorus, which was founded in 1977. Its first director was Thomas Peck; for the last 20 years, it has been directed by Amy Kaiser. The STL Symphony Youth Orchestra was established in 1970 by Leonard Slatkin.

The national prestige of the St. Louis Symphony grew most prominently during the music directorship of Leonard Slatkin, from 1979 to 1996. During his tenure, the orchestra made many recordings for the EMI and RCA Victor labels, and toured to Europe and the Far East, as well as concerts at Carnegie Hall. However, this growth in prestige was not matched by stabilization of long-term finances. In 2000, the SLSO's endowment stood at US$28 million.[3] In 2000, the executive director and President of the SLSO at the time, Don Roth, had secured a US$40 million challenge grant from the Taylor family (owners of privately held Enterprise Rent-A-Car) to help the organization's money situation.[4] However, in that same year, he revealed the situation of severe financial problems with the St. Louis Symphony finances, which nearly led to the orchestra's bankruptcy in 2001. Roth resigned his position in July 2001, and was succeeded by Randy Adams, a retired St. Louis bank executive. Adams embarked on extensive fund-raising efforts in the following years, seeking to enlarge the SLSO's endowment in the process. As part of the budget cuts and cost-saving measures, the musicians agreed to salary cuts over that time, and also a reduction of their 52-week contract to 42 weeks.

Following the departure of Hans Vonk as music director after the 2001/02 season, Itzhak Perlman served as music adviser to the orchestra from 2002 to 2004. In December 2003, David Robertson was announced as the next music director of the orchestra, effective with the 2005/06 season. In January 2005, a labor dispute led to a cancellation of concerts for two months.[5][6][7] Before the musicians had a chance to vote on the terms of the new contract, the management changed the locks to Powell Hall, without notifying musicians this was done thereby "Locking Out" the musicians. Auditions were cancelled, and the health insurance for musicians was cancelled without notice as well.

After a two-month contentious and unproductive period of negotiations, the musicians agreed to a ten-week reduction from a 52-week season, and 30% wage reductions. While the musicians considered themselves to be locked out, management considered this action to be an illegal strike, since the players' attorney, Leonard Leibowitz, had advised them against filing certain documents as required by law; the National Labor Relations Board agreed with management. Upon returning to the stage, the musicians enacted a "Vote of No Confidence" on Executive Director Randy Adams. A mutual agreement was then reached under which both parties agreed to refer to the eight-week period as a "Work Stoppage" and the "Vote of No Confidence" was rescinded.[8] In March 2005, the musicians and Adams agreed to a new contract.[9][10][11]

Since September 2005, the American conductor David Robertson has been the music director of the orchestra. In 2013, Robertson's contract was extended through the 2015/16 season. His most recent contract extension, announced in March 2014, is through the 2017/18 season.[12]

The post of Resident Conductor (formerly Assistant Conductor), who also acts as music director of the Saint Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, is currently held by Gemma New.[13] Past St. Louis Symphony Orchestra Assistant Conductors have included Slatkin, Gerhardt Zimmermann, David Loebel, David Amado, Scott Parkman, Ward Stare, and Steven Jarvi.

In February 2007, the St. Louis Symphony announced the resignation of Adams from positions as its President and Executive Director, as of June 2007.[14][15][16] In December 2007, the St. Louis Symphony announced the appointment of Fred Bronstein as the orchestra's new president and executive director.[17] Bronstein took up the post in March 2008. Faced with declining ticket sales and deficits, Bronstein immediately launched an aggressive new revenue plan with audience development at the core of its actions. Bronstein has also taken steps to broaden and diversify the symphony's programming through popularly-oriented programming series such as "Live at Powell Hall". Since 2008, because of new programming and marketing strategies, ticket revenues have grown 39% in the 2012 fiscal year, the highest revenues in over a decade, while seats sold grew by 16% and more than 31,000 new people were added to the customer base, reversing five years of decline. Because of successful audience development initiatives at the core of the plan as well as other revenue progress and strong management of expenses, the structural deficit (whose gaps are funded by additional contributions) has declined 18% from $3.4m in 2007 to $2.8m in 2011, dipping as low as $2.62m in 2010.

A rebranding process was undertaken in 2010, with the adoption of a new logo and a new look, changing its name from the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) to St. Louis Symphony. The move was not received with universal approval, and many, including members of the local news media, proved resistant to the marketing-based change. Since the fall of 2010, after the sale of the St. Louis classical radio station KFUO, the St. Louis Symphony has partnered with St. Louis Public Radio to broadcast its subscription concerts live every Saturday night during its regular season.

Bronstein left the SLSO to head the Peabody Conservatory in Spring 2014. In February 2015, the SLSO named Marie-Hélène Bernard, then-president of the Handel and Haydn Society as its new president and CEO. She began her new job on July 1, 2015.[18]

Music directors


  1. Hoover, John Neal (Fall 1985). "St. Louis Mercantile Library". Journal of Library History. 20 (4): 440–443. Retrieved 2008-02-21.
  2. Lynnda Greene (September 2005). "Arts – If Music Is To Matter". St. Louis Magazine. Retrieved 2007-12-16.
  3. Eddie Silva (1 November 2000). "Facing the Music". Riverfront Times. Retrieved 2007-03-22.
  4. Eddie Silva (12 September 2001). "Stop the Music". Riverfront Times. Retrieved 2007-03-22.
  5. Sarah Bryan Miller (20 January 2005). "Symphony strike echoes across US". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2007-03-22.
  6. Daniel J. Wakin (4 January 2005). "Labor Dispute Halts Music in St. Louis". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-16.
  7. Daniel J. Wakin (17 February 2005). "The Silence in St. Louis Is Starting to Hurt". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-16.
  8. Ben Mattison (24 February 2005). "Labor Board Rules St. Louis Symphony Orchestra Strike Is Illegal". Playbill Arts. Retrieved 2007-03-22.
  9. Ben Mattison (25 February 2005). "St. Louis Symphony Management and Musicians Reach Tentative Deal". Playbill Arts. Retrieved 2007-03-22.
  10. Ben Mattison (2 March 2005). "St. Louis Symphony Musicians Approve New Contract, Ending Two-Month Work Stoppage". Playbill Arts. Retrieved 2007-03-22.
  11. Malcolm Gay (24 August 2005). "Unfinished Symphony". Riverfront Time. Retrieved 2007-03-22.
  12. "St. Louis Symphony Announces Contract Extension with Music Director David Robertson through 2017–2018" (Press release). St. Louis Symphony. 4 March 2014. Retrieved 2016-11-06.
  13. Sarah Bryan Miller (2016-06-02). "SLSO appoints Gemma New as resident conductor". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved 2016-11-06.
  14. Saint Louis Symphony, "SLSO President and Executive Director Randy Adams Announces Resignation". Press release, 20 February 2007.
  15. Sarah Bryan Miller, "Symphony president says he will step aside in June". St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 21 February 2007.
  16. Vivien Schweitzer (22 February 2007). "St. Louis Symphony President Randy Adams Resigns". Playbill Arts. Retrieved 2007-03-22.
  17. Sarah Bryan Miller, "SLSO hires new president". St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 15 December 2007.
  18. Sarah Bryan Miller (2015-02-11). "St. Louis Symphony Orchestra names new president and CEO". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved 2016-11-06.
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