National Symphony Orchestra

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For the National Symphony Orchestras of other countries, see National Symphony Orchestra (disambiguation).
National Symphony Orchestra
Banner of the NSO.jpg
Kennedy Center
Short name NSO
Founded 1931 (1931)
Location Washington DC, United States
Concert hall John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Principal conductor Christoph Eschenbach

The National Symphony Orchestra (NSO), founded in 1931, is an American symphony orchestra that performs at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.


For the first period of its history, the orchestra performed in Constitution Hall. During the tenure of the first music director, Hans Kindler, the musicians received a salary of $40.00 per week, for three rehearsals and one concert, for five months of the year.[1]

Kindler and the orchestra made several 78-rpm recordings for RCA Victor, including the two Roumanian Rhapsodies by George Enescu; much later, in 1960, the orchestra would perform the first of these works under the baton of the visiting Romanian conductor George Georgescu, a close associate and favored exponent of the composer.[2] One of the more unusual RCA recordings with the orchestra was of the complete ballet music from the opera King Henry VIII by Camille Saint-Saëns, one of the very few recordings conducted by Walter Damrosch. Years later, Howard Mitchell made a series of stereophonic recordings with the orchestra for RCA. Antal Doráti recorded with the orchestra for Decca Records. Mstislav Rostropovich made recordings for Teldec, Sony Records, and Erato. The orchestra returned to RCA Victor under Leonard Slatkin, until RCA abandoned new classical recordings.

In 1986, the National Symphony became the artistic affiliate of the Kennedy Center, the national center for the performing arts, where it has presented a concert season annually since the Center opened in 1971.


The National Symphony Orchestra regularly participates in events of national and international importance, including performances for ceremonial state affairs, presidential inaugurations and official holiday celebrations.

The Orchestra itself numbers 100 musicians, presenting a 52-week season of approximately 175 concerts each year. These include classical subscription series, pops concerts, and one of the country’s most extensive educational programs. In addition to these activities, small groups of NSO members develop education programs designed at age levels from pre-kindergarten through high school. Collectively, these ensembles present as many as 100 additional performances a year during the American Residencies and at the Kennedy Center.

The National Symphony Orchestra has a strong commitment to the development of America’s artistic resources. Through the John and June Hechinger Commissioning Fund for New Orchestral Works, the NSO has commissioned more than 50 works, including cycles of fanfares and encores. To nurture new generations of conductors, Slatkin founded the National Conducting Institute in 2000. Also of note is the Kennedy Center Summer Music Institute. For more than a decade, scholarships provided by the National Trustees of the National Symphony Orchestra have enabled high school students from throughout the country to come to the nation’s capital for several weeks of study with NSO musicians.

First Lady Nancy Reagan conducts the National Symphony Orchestra, 1987

Another important project is the National Symphony Orchestra American Residencies for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. This venture encompasses sharing all elements of classical symphonic music with a specific region of the United States, exploring the diversity of musical influences, and giving the region a musical voice in the nation’s center for the performing arts through exchanges, training programs, and commissions. Established in 1992, the project has taken the NSO to fifteen states.

In November 2004, the orchestra announced that Slatkin would conclude his tenure as the orchestra's music director in 2008. One report spoke of tensions between the conductor and the orchestra, and mentioned criticisms of Slatkin's programming and rehearsal styles.[3]

With the 2006–2007 season, Iván Fischer became the principal guest conductor of the orchestra.[4][5] On 13 April 2007, the orchestra announced the appointment of Fischer as the orchestra's principal conductor as of the 2008–2009 season, for two seasons.[6] This interim position is for two years.[7] On September 25, 2008, the orchestra announced the appointment of Christoph Eschenbach as the orchestra's sixth music director, effective with the 2010–11 season, for an initial contract of four years.[8] In September 2011, the orchestra extended Eschenbach's contract through the 2014–2015 season, and in March 2014, his contract was extended through the 2016–2017 season.[9][10]

Music directors[edit]


  1. ^ Tim Page (2005-09-04). "The NSO: 75 and Counting Its Blessings". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-03-18. 
  2. ^ Programme for National Symphony Orchestra performances of December 13–15, 1960.
  3. ^ Tim Page (2004-11-18). "Slatkin, NSO to Part in 2008". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-03-18. 
  4. ^ "Q&A: Iván Fischer". Playbill Arts. 2006-10-19. Retrieved 2007-03-18. 
  5. ^ Tim Page (2007-02-12). "Ivan Fischer: Plays Well With Children". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-03-18. 
  6. ^ Tim Page (2007-04-12). "NSO Picks Fischer as Interim Maestro". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-04-13. 
  7. ^ "Iván Fischer Appointed Principal Conductor of DC's National Symphony Orchestra". Playbill Arts. 2007-04-12. Retrieved 2007-04-14. 
  8. ^ Anne Midgette (2008-09-25). "Christoph Eschenbach to Lead National Symphony". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-09-25. 
  9. ^ Anne Midgette (2011-09-25). "Kennedy Center extends Eschenbach’s contract; new organ in works". Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-09-28. 
  10. ^ "Christoph Eschenbach Extends Contract as Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra and Kennedy Center Through the 2016-2017 Season". Kennedy Center Press Release. 2014-03-24. Retrieved 2014-04-06. 

External links[edit]