For a mid-size city, Cincinnati has a really big orchestra. Symphony orchestras are the biggest of orchestras, capable of playing multi-movement, complex, instrumental compositions containing wind, string, and percussion instruments. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO), the fifth oldest in the country, is not just a local musical group, but a Grammy award winning ensemble that has attracted an impressive list of international conductors, as well as big name singers. The CSO will please even the most traditional classical music enthusiast, and might pleasantly surprise the concert-going novice.
Celebrating his final season with the CSO in 2011, Paavo Järvi began his reign as Music Director in 2001. Born in Estonia, Järvi has taken the CSO on tours of the U.S., Europe, and Japan. In addition to being CSO maestro, Järvi also appears regularly as guest conductor for the N.Y. Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony, as well as other respected national and international organizations. He is the recipient of many musical honors and led the CSO to win multiple Grammy awards.
Along with the massive influx of German immigrants coming to the Cincinnati area in the 18th and 19th centuries, there also came great musical talent. The Cincinnati Orchestra formed in 1872, and by 1895 had grown into the CSO. In its first season under the direction of Frank Van der Stucken, the orchestra performed nine concerts with 48 musicians at Pike's Opera House. In 1896 it had 60 musicians and moved to Music Hall, which is still its home today. During the turn of the century, a formative time for the CSO, they hosted such esteemed composers as Richard Strauss and Sergei Rachmaninoff. From the early 1920s through Järvi's arrival in 2001, the CSO enjoyed many great directors, increasing popularity, and performed on both international and national tours. Today, with over 100 skilled musicians, the CSO is a respected musical leader in the Midwest.
With both guest conductors and Järvi, the CSO performs many classical symphonies by varying composers. Recent seasons have included concert series featuring well known composers like Beethoven, Mozart, Handel, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, and Dvorak (performed with cello master Yo-Yo Ma). If you prefer more popular music, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, part of the CSO, (which was invited to perform during opening weekend of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China) performs an array of contemporary shows, often accompanied by singers. Each year the Pops host big names, like the Broadway and "Glee" star Idina Menzel. Recent Pops' performances have included Halloween shows (with the orchestra in costume), the Music of John Denver, Mary Wilson of the Supremes, the music from "Star Wars," and "Oh What a Night" featuring Billboard hits from the 1950s and 1960s.
If you've never been to the symphony and are intimidated by the whole process, you should check out CSO's user friendly website. The site contains an enormous amount of information that you might not know about symphony orchestras, including important newbie tips like when to clap and what to wear to a concert. To help make the experience more personal, there are also extensive musician bios, with scoop like who their musical influences are and what's on their iPpod. Some musicians even offer personal advice for newbies. Also, free for all ticket holders before Friday and Saturday night concerts, Classical Conversations are informal discussions with conductors and musicians on the musical selections. And Program Notes are available ahead of time online, providing useful information for the novice, like composer bios and background about the music. Checking this all out might make the experience less daunting.
The CSO is the official orchestra for the Cincinnati Opera and May Festival (an annual choral event dating back to the 1870s). The CSO also partners with the Cincinnati Ballet, providing live music for the art of dance. The Chamber Players, a smaller subset ensemble, performs each season providing music in a more intimate venue. Since younger children don't always go for traditional concerts, the CSO offers Lollipop Family Concerts. These Saturday morning performances have themes geared towards children ages three to 10 and provide a great introduction to symphonic music. The CSO also sponsors an array of parties and galas to complement a particular concert's theme.
The CSO strives to "establish life-long relationships with the community, promoting active participation in music." To do this, it performs for over 20,000 students in the area each season through a program called Young People's Concerts. These shorter performances are grade level appropriate and focus on musical topics like rhythm and meter, and percussion. There are also Workshops for Educators, where the CSO offers strategies for educators on how to enhance musical learning. There is also a Youth Orchestra for musicians in grades nine to 12.
CSO performances are at the famed Music Hall, just minutes from downtown in the historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. The Pops have performances at both Music Hall and Riverbend Music Center on the Ohio River. Several multi-concert packages are available, depending on your taste, including groupings of either classical or popular performances. There's even an online quiz to help you figure out which package best suits you. Single ticket prices range from $10-$105 depending on seat location and performance. Tickets are available online, in person, and by phone through the box office.
- Location: Music Hall, 1241 Elm Street, Cincinnati, OH
- Phone: 513-381-3300
- Website: cincinnatisymphony.org