Seattle Symphony

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Seattle Symphony
Seattle Symphony Orchestra on stage in Benaroya Hall.jpg
Seattle Symphony on stage in Benaroya Hall in May 2009.
Founded 1903
Concert hall Benaroya Hall
Principal conductor Ludovic Morlot

The Seattle Symphony is an American orchestra based in Seattle, Washington. Since 1998, the orchestra is resident at Benaroya Hall. The orchestra's season runs from September through July, and serves as the pit orchestra for most productions of the Seattle Opera in addition to its own concerts. Founded in 1903 and now in its 112th season, the Seattle Symphony has completed more than 140 recordings and received 1 Grammy, 12 Grammy nominations, 2 Emmys and numerous other awards. The orchestra has enjoyed national and international acclaim for its programming and performances under Music Director Ludovic Morlot, who is now in his fourth season as the organization’s artistic leader. The orchestra performs in one of the world’s finest concert venues — the acoustically superb Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle — and is internationally recognized for its adventurous and innovative programming of contemporary works, its devotion to the classics, and its extensive recording history. In 2014 the Symphony launched its in-house recording label, Seattle Symphony Media. From September through July, the Symphony is heard live by more than 315,000 people.[1]



The orchestra gave its first performance on December 29, 1903, with Harry West conducting. Known from its founding as the Seattle Symphony, it was renamed in 1911 as the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1919, the orchestra was reorganized with new bylaws under the name Seattle Symphony Orchestra. The 1921–22 season was cancelled due to financial problems.[2]

Pacific Northwest Symphony Orchestra[edit]

In 1947, the Seattle Symphony merged with the Tacoma Philharmonic to form the Pacific Northwest Symphony Orchestra. Performances were held in Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia, with conducting duties split between Carl Bricken and Eugene Linden.[3] This arrangement ceased after one season, when the Seattle Symphony decided to withdraw from it.[4] A feud between the musicians and the board surfaced in 1948, and a majority of the musicians divorced themselves from the board and created a new orchestra called the Seattle Orchestra, a partnership (collective) operated by the musicians themselves, who chose Linden as their conductor.[4] The Seattle Symphony announced a separate orchestra season with eighteen concerts at the old Meany Hall for the Performing Arts on the University of Washington campus. The symphony was to be directed by Stanley Chapple, and a series of guest conductors: Artur Rodzinski, Jacques Singer, and Erich Leinsdorf.[5] Personnel for the Seattle Symphony were announced in the press on October 24, 1948, and included a few musicians who had chosen not to defect to the Seattle Orchestra and some new faces as well.[6] The Seattle Symphony season was then postponed and eventually cancelled. The Seattle Orchestra, meanwhile, gave its first performance on November 23, 1948.[7] An accommodation was reached between the Seattle Symphony and the Seattle Orchestra, and the two organizations merged, and the name "Seattle Symphony Orchestra" was retained. The partnership system was also retained, and musicians gained access onto the board.[8] The partnership system was eventually dissolved at the request of Milton Katims in 1955.[9] Even so, for most of its 100-year history, and especially today, the ensemble is known by the two-word name "Seattle Symphony".

Former Seattle Symphony logo under Gerard Schwarz.

Gerard Schwarz[edit]

Gerard Schwarz, became music advisor of the orchestra in 1983 and principal conductor in 1984, before being named music director in 1985.[10] Under Schwarz's leadership, the orchestra became particularly known for performing works of twentieth-century composers, especially neglected American composers. Together, Schwarz and the orchestra have made more than 100 commercial recordings, including the major orchestral works of Howard Hanson and David Diamond as well as works by Charles Tomlinson Griffes, Walter Piston, Paul Creston, William Schuman, Alan Hovhaness, Morton Gould, David Diamond, and others, for Delos International and Naxos Records. The orchestra received its first Grammy nomination in January 1990 for a 1989 recording of music of Howard Hanson.[11] The orchestra also recorded a musical score to the SeaWorld, Orlando, stage show A'lure, The Call of the Ocean.

Schwarz received praise for his championing of American composers and his skills in fund-raising.[10] However, his tenure was also marked by controversies between him and several symphony musicians, which included several legal disputes.[12] In September 2008, the orchestra announced the conclusion of Schwarz's music directorship after the 2010–2011 season, at which time Schwarz is scheduled to become the orchestra's conductor laureate.[dated info][10][13]


Seattle Symphony logo

In June 2010, the Seattle Symphony announced the appointment of Ludovic Morlot as its 15th music director, effective with the 2011–2012 season, with an initial contract of six years.[14] The operating budget as of the 2011-2012 season is $24 million and over 315,000 people attend performances annually.[15]

Ludovic Morlot[edit]

In 2011–2012, his inaugural season with the Seattle Symphony, Ludovic Morlot enjoyed critical acclaim for leading the orchestra in performances of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust, and Holst’s The Planets; the inaugural presentation of Sonic Evolution, a commissioning project designed by Morlot to feature new works honoring Seattle’s musical heritage; and a season-long exploration of the music of French composer Henri Dutilleux. Morlot’s second season, 2012–2013, was marked with further critical success, including sell-out performances of Britten’s War Requiem, RachFest, an immensely popular cycle of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concertos, and the Seattle Symphony’s first-ever performance of Messiaen’s Turangalîla. Highlights of the 2013–2014 season included full Masterworks programs dedicated to the music of Ravel and Stravinsky, and Morlot’s first tour with the orchestra to Carnegie Hall in New York as part of Spring For Music, a festival designed to showcase the creativity of North American orchestras. The program, hailed by the New York Times as "a model of fresh artistic thinking," featured works by Varèse and Debussy, as well as John Luther Adams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning Become Ocean, which was commissioned by the Seattle Symphony and received a 2015 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition.

Trained as a violinist, Morlot studied conducting at the Royal Academy of Music in London and then at the Royal College of Music as a recipient of the Norman Del Mar Conducting Fellowship. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music in 2007 in recognition of his significant contribution to music.[1]

Music directors[edit]

Performance Venues[edit]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ "No Symphony This Season" The Seattle Times, 9 October 1921, p. 21
  3. ^ Joe Miller, "N.W. Symphony Selects Name," The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1 October 1947.
  4. ^ a b Campbell, Esther W. (1978). Bagpipes in the Woodwind Section: A History of the Seattle Symphony and its Women's Organization. Seattle: Seattle Symphony Women's Organization. pp. 57–58. OCLC 5792179. 
  5. ^ Richard E. Hays, "Seattle Symphony Lists 18 Concerts for Season," The Seattle Times, 10 October 1948.
  6. ^ "Orchestra Personnel for 2 Groups Listed," The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 24 October 1948.
  7. ^ Seattle Orchestra, Program, 23 November 1948.
  8. ^ Suzanne Martin, "Music Groups in Agreement on Symphony," The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 13 January 1949, p. 3.
  9. ^ Seattle Musicians Association, Minutes, Meeting of the Board of Directors, 25 March 1955, 1 June 1955.
  10. ^ a b c Jack Broom (2008-09-11). "Seattle Symphony's Gerard Schwarz is stepping down". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2010-04-24. 
  11. ^ Melinda Bargreen (1990-01-12). "Grammy City - Three Nominations Put Seattle Symphony And Schwarz In The Big Time". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2010-08-09. 
  12. ^ Daniel J. Wakin and James R. Oestreich (2007-12-16). "In Seattle, a Fugue for Orchestra and Rancor". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-24. 
  13. ^ Daniel J. Wakin (2008-09-11). "Seattle’s Conductor Plans His Departure". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-24. 
  14. ^ Melinda Bargreen (29 June 2010). "Rising French star Ludovic Morlot chosen to replace Schwarz at Seattle Symphony". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2010-07-02. 
  15. ^ Seattle Symphony. "Seattle Symphony Press Kit". Retrieved 2012-06-23. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]