The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra (= SLSO) is an American symphony orchestra based in St. Louis, Missouri. Founded in 1880 by Joseph Otten as the St. Louis Choral Society, the SLSO is the second-oldest symphony orchestra in the USA as it is preceded by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
The St Louis Choral Society performed in the auditorium of the St. Louis Mercantile Library 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 St Louis Symphony Orchestra.
Before moving to its current home in Powell Symphony Hall, it 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 SLSO has recorded for the Columbia, RCA Victor, Red Seal, Telarc, Vox/Turnabout and Angel EMI labels. It has also issued CD recordings on its own label, Arch Media, and has received six Grammy Awards and fifty-six nominations. For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, the SLSO has been the resident orchestra since 1978, divided into two ensembles, each performing two of the operas in the season.
The symphony 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 symphony 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 symphony as well as on its own programs. Also associated with the symphony is the Saint Louis Symphony Chorus, which was founded in 1977. Its first director was Thomas Peck, and its current director is Amy Kaiser. The Saint Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra was established in 1970 by Leonard Slatkin.
The national prestige of the SLSO grew most prominently during the music directorship of Leonard Slatkin, from 1979 to 1996. During his tenure, the SLSO 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. As of 2000, the SLSO endowment stood at US$28 million. In 2000, the executive director and President of the Symphony at the time, Don Roth, had secured a US$40 million challenge grant from the Taylor family to help the SLSO money situation. However, in that same year, he revealed the situation of severe financial problems with the SLSO 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 endowment of the SLSO 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.
In January 2005, a labor dispute related to salaries led to a cancellation of concerts for two months. While the musicians considered themselves to be locked out, and the management considered this action to be an illegal strike, the action was ruled in the courts to be an illegal strike. In March 2005, the musicians and Adams agreed to a new contract.
Since September 2005, the American conductor David Robertson is the Music Director of the SLSO, having been named to that position in December 2003. In September 2006, he extended his contract to 2010, with an evergreen clause to allow for automatic yearly renewal with the consent of both parties. As of November 2009, Robertson is contracted to the SLSO music directorship through the 2011-2012 season.
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 Ward Stare, from the beginning of the 2008-2009 season. Past SLSO Assistant Conductors have included Leonard Slatkin, Gerhardt Zimmermann, David Loebel, David Amado, and Scott Parkman.
Past vice-presidents of artistic administration have included Jeremy Geffen and Peter Czornyj. The current vice-president of artistic administration is Bret Dorhout. In February 2007, the SLSO announced the resignation of Adams from positions as its President and Executive Director, as of June 2007. In December 2007, the SLSO announced the appointment of Fred Bronstein as the orchestra's new president and executive director. Bronstein took up the posts in March 2008.