The orchestra was founded as a 17-player radio ensemble in 1936. The orchestra reformed in 1949 as the 55-member South Australian Symphony Orchestra, with Henry Krips as its resident conductor. The orchestra reverted to its original title, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, in late 1975, and currently comprises 74 permanent members. Chief conductors of the orchestra have included Elyakum Shapirra, Piero Gamba, Albert Rosen, Nicholas Braithwaite, and David Porcelijn. The ASO's most recent chief conductor was Arvo Volmer, who held the post from 2004 to 2013. He is currently the ASO's principal guest conductor and artistic advisor. Guest conductors have included the popular British conductor Anthony Inglis who conducted the ASO in playing Space Classics in September 2011, including dressing as a Jedi and conducting with a light saber. In 2007, the orchestra partnered with Hilltop Hoods to prepare a re-orchestrated release of their album The Hard Road, titled The Hard Road Restrung.
The ASO's achievements have included its 1998 performances of Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle, the first Australian production since 1913 (although it was widely and erroneously claimed to be the first ever in Australia). The orchestra participated in the first fully Australian production of The Ring in 2004.
^The Ring was first performed in Australia at Her Majesty's Theatre in Melbourne in August 1913 (Das Rheingold, 19 August; Die Walkure, 22 August; Siegfried, 25 August; Gotterdammerung, 29 August), Erik Irvin, Dictionary of the Australian Theatre 1788-1914, pp. 245, 246