The first concert of what was to become the Houston Symphony took place on June 21, 1913, sponsored by the Houston philanthropist Ima Hogg. Initially, the orchestra was composed of only 35 part-time musicians. Despite its small stature and budget, the orchestra and its first conductor, Julien Paul Blitz, enjoyed a good response and continued to perform. Blitz conducted until 1916, then Paul Bergé, until the orchestra disbanded in 1918.
The orchestra reformed in 1930, still as a semi-professional orchestra, and gave its first full season of concerts the following year conducted by Uriel Nespoli. In the spring of 1936 the symphony society officially became the Houston Symphony Society. Ernst Hoffmann began his tenure that year with increased support from the Society and began hiring professional musicians. The orchestra continued to expand over the next several decades, and its first 52-week contract was signed in 1971.
Leopold Stokowski was music director from 1955 to 1961. During his tenure, the Houston Symphony gave the American premiere of the Symphony No 11 of Dmitri Shostakovich, and subsequently made the first commercial recording of the work.
When Stokowski invited African-American opera singer Shirley Verrett to sing with the Houston Symphony in the early 1960s, he was forced to rescind his invitation when the orchestra board refused to accept a black soloist. Stokowski later made amends by giving her a prestigious date with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The orchestra performed in either the City Auditorium or the Music Hall until the construction in 1966 of the Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts. In 2001, the orchestra lost millions of dollars' worth of instruments, music, and archives when Tropical Storm Allison flooded the basement levels of Jones Hall. In 2003, the musicians went on strike for 24 days, and the settlement included a pay cut for the musicians and a reduction in the size of the orchestra.
Hans Graf was the music director of the orchestra from 2001 to 2013, the longest tenure of any Houston Symphony music director. In September 2009, the orchestra announced the conclusion of his tenure as music director at the end of the 2012–2013 season, upon which Graf took the title of conductor laureate of the orchestra.
In October 2012, Andrés Orozco-Estrada made his first guest-conducting appearance with the orchestra. This appearance led to a return engagement with the orchestra, for a private rehearsal. In January 2013, the orchestra announced the appointment of Orozco-Estrada as its next music director, as of the 2014–2015 season, with an initial contract of five years and twelve weeks of appearances per season. He was music director designate for the 2013–2014 season. In March 2017, the orchestra announced the extension of Orozco-Estrada's contract through the 2021–2022 season. Under the baton of Orozco-Estrada the orchestra has recorded three CD releases of Dvořák's music, under the PENTATONE label. In January 2018, the orchestra won the Grammy Award for best Opera Recording, making Houston Symphony's first win.
Notable musicians, past and present
The following Houston Symphony musicians have articles in Wikipedia:
- Arlene Weiss Alda, clarinet, assistant principal 1956–1957 
- James Austin, trumpet, principal 1960–1977
- Edward Carroll, trumpet, associate principal 1975–1976
- Wayne Crouse, viola, principal 1951–1983
- Willard Somers Elliot, bassoon 1946–1949
- Paul Ellison, bass, principal 1964–1987
- Armando Ghitalla, trumpet 1948–1950
- Desmond Hoebig, cello, principal 1991–2003
- Frank Huang, violin, concertmaster 2010–2015
- Benjamin Kamins, bassoon, principal 1981–2003
- Julie Landsman, horn, co-principal 1982–1985
- Erik Ralske, horn, associate principal
- Hal Robinson, bass, assistant principal 1977–1985
- Elaine Shaffer, flute, principal 1948–1953
- Joseph Silverstein, violin 1950–1953
- Brinton Averil Smith, cello, principal 2005–present
- Laila Storch, oboe, principal 1948–1955
- William VerMeulen, horn, principal 1990–present
- John McLaughlin Williams, violin 1981–1982
- Harold Wright, clarinet, c. 1949–1952
- Tommasini, Anthony "Shirley Verrett Finally Tells Us Where She's Been", The New York Times, 2003-07-27. Retrieved on 2008-03-19.
- International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, Settlement Bulletin, "Houston Symphony Ratifies 4-Year Agreement". 17 April 2003. Archived 16 November 2006 at the Wayback Machine
- Daniel J. Wakin (5 February 2006). "Carnegie Hall 4 Vry Lo Rnt". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-01-10.
- Tara Dooley (23 September 2009). "Hans Graf takes steps to leave symphony". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-10-02.
- Steven Brown (2013-01-16). "Colombia native will be Houston Symphony's next leader". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2013-01-27.
- "Houston Symphony And Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada Announce Contract Renewal Through 2022" (Press release). Houston Symphony. 23 March 2017. Archived from the original on 7 April 2017. Retrieved 2017-04-06.
- Arlene Alda (1933-) Biography. Retrieved 2010-05-26.
- Houston Symphony official website
- Extensive history from The Handbook of Texas Online
- Oral History clip of Ima Hogg discussing the formation of the Houston Symphony from the Houston Area Digital Archive