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.
In 2009 Premier and Arts Minister Mike Rann proposed and provided government funding to the ASO to commission a major orchestral work about climate change. The ASO's world premiere of Gerard Brophy's 'The Blue Thread', inspired by the River Murray, was performed at the Concert for the Earth at the Adelaide Town Hall on 27 November 2010. The Rann government proposed and arranged funding for two further ASO commissions, the first an orchestral tribute to the cricketer Sir Donald Bradman, and the second commemorating the centenary of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli. The world premiere of 'Our Don' by Natalie Williams was performed by the ASO in August 2014. The world premiere of an 'ANZAC requiem' by composer Iain Grandage and librettist Kate Mulvany will be performed on 22 April 2015.
^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
^Samela Harris, Adelaide Advertiser, 25 November 2015, "Don't call me a greenie"; and ABC 7 December 2010, "Australian Broadcast Highlights, The Blue Thread"