Oregon Symphony

Oregon Symphony

Symphony Orchestra

• Founded 1896


The Oregon Symphony is the oldest symphony orchestra on the U.S. West Coast. After shaky beginnings, it gained considerable prominence in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The Oregon Symphony was founded as the Portland Symphony Orchestra in 1896. The group gave its initial performance, under conductor W.H. Kinross, at the sizable Marquam Grand Opera House, but seasons for several years were spotty. In 1911 the orchestra was reorganized as a professional group, with an unusual arrangement involving five rotating conductors. British conductor Carl Denton became music director in 1918, and was succeeded by the Netherlands' Wilhelm van Hoogstraten in 1925; both of these conductors did much to organize the orchestra musically along European lines. The orchestra vigorously attempted to maintain a classical music presence in Portland during the Great Depression, offering stadium concerts for a $1.00 -- a six-concert season ticket -- but it suspended operations due to financial difficulties in 1938. Reestablished in 1947, the symphony cycled through various conductors before changing its name to the Oregon Symphony (unusually, not Oregon Symphony Orchestra) in 1967. The name change reflected the orchestra's growing statewide presence, with concerts even in remote small cities such as Bend. Another milestone in the orchestra's history was the appointment of James DePreist as music director in 1980: one of the first African Americans to conduct a major symphony orchestra, DePreist remained on the podium for 23 years, inaugurated the orchestra's recording catalog with a series of albums on the Delos label, and became a beloved figure in Portland. Since 2003, the orchestra's music director has been Carlos Kalmar. The Oregon Symphony performs in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, a renovated 1921 vaudeville house seating 2,775. In the 2010s, the orchestra has issued a variety of albums on the Netherlands' audiophile label PentaTone; in 2018 it issued Aspects of America, featuring music by Sean Shepherd, Sebastian Currier, Christopher Rouse, Kenji Bunch, and Samuel Barber.