The North Carolina Symphony (= NCSO, NCS) is an American orchestra based in Raleigh, North Carolina, with sixty-five full-time musicians. The orchestra performs in Meymandi Concert Hall and performs occasionally with the Carolina Ballet and the The Opera Company of North Carolina. In 2013, the organization celebrate its 80th anniversary season. Concert series are also performed across North Carolina in the cities of, Durham, Chapel Hill, Cary, Southern Pines, New Bern, Wilmington, Fayetteville, and Jacksonville, as well as other communities. The NCSO is a vital and honored component of North Carolina's cultural life. Its 175 performances annually are greeted with enthusiasm throughout the state, in communities large and small, in concert halls, auditoriums, gymnasiums and outdoor settings.
In 1932, Lamar Stringfield united a group of volunteers to form the North Carolina Symphony. They first performed in Hill Hall at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in North Carolina on May 14, 1932. The original musicians of the symphony were unpaid local musicians. By 1935, the North Carolina Symphony had performed in more than fifty cities and towns in North Carolina, in over 140 concerts. Dr. Benjamin Swalin, Music Director from 1939 to 1972, continued the orchestra's mission to reach as many North Carolina natives as possible.
In the 1940's, the NCSO became the first orchestra to receive continuous state funding. The "Horn Tootin’ Bill", which asserted that state funds would be given to orchestras, was passed by the North Carolina State Legislature in March 1943. The NCSO continues to receive this state funding today. In 1942, the Symphony began to focus on education, bringing in young children and students into the concert hall to ask questions and hear the musicians play. The Symphony began coordinating with elementary schools, exposing many children to symphonic music at an early age.
The NCSO is an orchestra with a reputation for playing many genres and types of music outside of classical concerts. In 2007, the Symphony toured western North Carolina, with a program featuring traditional North Carolina folk music; cherokee flutist, fiddlers, banjo players, and clogging performed with the Symphony.
Since July 2004, Grant Llewellyn has been the NCSO's Music Director. His initial contract was for 4 years, and in November 2006, his contract was extended to 2012. Under his artistic leadership the orchestra has grown in stature and sophistication, now advancing a well-earned reputation for innovative programming and collaborative projects.Gerhardt Zimmermann, Music Director from 1982 to 2003, is the orchestra's conductor laureate.
Top soloists from the classical and pops worlds - including Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Lang Lang, Joshua Bell, Yuja Wang, Lynn Harrell, Pink Martini, Ben Folds, Randy Newman and Idina Menzel - have joined the orchestra and taken advantage of two of the country’s finest performance venues, the spectacular Meymandi Concert Hall at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh and Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary. The orchestra has also appeared twice at Carnegie Hall in New York and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and Orchestra Hall in Chicago.
The NCSO can be heard on WUNC 91.5 FM (David Hartman, the host of the ABC television program Good Morning America, is the host for the North Carolina Symphony radio broadcasts) or through its seven CD releases, including two celebrated titles on the BIS label: "American Spectrum" with saxophonist Branford Marsalis and a 2010 release of Piano Concerto No. 4 by Sergei Rachmaninov and Piano Concerto No. 2 by Medtner with pianist Yevgeny Sudbin. The orchestra has released many other critically lauded recordings, includin g “Sketches: 2004-05,” a recording featuring the compositions of the Symphony’s bass trombonist, Terry Mizesko.
Devoted to bringing music to the entire state of North Carolina, the NCSO counts as one of its proudest achievements an extensive education program, unrivaled by any USA orchestra. Approximately 45 concerts per year are performed free for school children throughout the state and are part of the schools' music education curriculum. In addition, among many education initiatives, the NCSO stages the annual Youth Concerto Competition, honors an outstanding music educator, sponsors the Triangle Youth Philharmonic and offers master classes for both adults and young people.