Columbia Symphony Orchestra
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The Columbia Symphony Orchestra was an orchestra formed by Columbia Records strictly for the purpose of making recordings. It provided a vehicle for some of Columbia's better known conductors and recording artists to record using only company resources. The musicians in the orchestra were contracted as needed for individual sessions and consisted of free-lance artists and members of either the New York Philharmonic or the Los Angeles Philharmonic, depending on whether the recording was being made in Columbia's East Coast or West Coast studios.
Perhaps the most important recordings the orchestra made were with conductor Bruno Walter, who recorded highly regarded interpretations of Beethoven's, Brahms's, Bruckner's, Mahler's and Mozart's symphonies. With this orchestra, Walter made his only stereo recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 9, which he had conducted at its world premiere.
In 1949, Sir Thomas Beecham made a series of recordings in Columbia Records' 30th Street Studios in New York City with a completely different pickup group, which was also called the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. Later reissued by Sony on CD, the recordings include Dance of the Hours from the opera La Gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli, the overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor by Otto Nicolai, Carmen Suite by Georges Bizet, and Capriccio Italien by Peter Tchaikovsky.
Leonard Bernstein conducted the orchestra, and also played the piano solos, in Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto in G and George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. These were released by Columbia in stereo on LP and later reissued by Sony on CD.
Igor Stravinsky also made a number of recordings of his own compositions with the East Coast incarnation of this orchestra, including his complete stereo recording of his ballet The Firebird. This happened mostly under the supervision of conductor and musicologist Robert Craft.
From 1955 onwards, he made many recordings with the CSO, in CBS-projects that were intended to record the Second Viennese School for the first time integrally. In this period, Craft also produced most of the Varèse works with the Columbia Ensemble.
The term Columbia Symphony Orchestra was also used when, for contractual reasons, another orchestra could not appear under its own name. Many Los Angeles Philharmonic musicians also played under the Columbia Symphony name, and some reports mention that the entire Philharmonic frequently played as the Columbia Symphony when recorded on the west coast.
There was also a Columbia Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra, sometimes called the CBS Symphony Orchestra, which frequently performed on CBS Radio broadcasts and made 78-rpm recordings for Columbia Records during the 1940s, usually conducted by Howard Barlow. The composer Bernard Herrmann conducted the orchestra for some broadcasts, especially The Mercury Theatre on the Air and The Campbell Playhouse programs presented by Orson Welles.
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