How the National Symphony Orchestra Works

History of the National Symphony Orchestra

Before there was the National Symphony Orchestra, there were a coupleattempts to organize an orchestra to represent the nation (or at least Washington, D.C.). The Washington Philharmonic started around the beginning of the 20th century, but it lasted only a year or so. The Washington Symphony Orchestra ran from 1902 to 1905, then failed to revive itself in 1907.

It wasn't until 1930 that a famed cellist from the Philadelphia Orchestra named Hans Kindler put together the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, D.C., for its first show on Jan. 31, 1930, in the midst of the Great Depression.

For its debut season in 1931-1932, the orchestra put on 24 concerts, and its members received $40 a week to do three rehearsals and a concert every Thursday afternoon for the five-month season [source: Washington Post]. That figure may not seem like a lot by today's standards, but during the Great Depression it was a significant amount for musicians. Kindler led the National Symphony Orchestra until 1948, and died a year later.

From its beginning until 1971, the orchestra was based out of Constitution Hall in Washington D.C., which was built in 1929. Now, the National Symphony Orchestra performs a year-round schedule of classical, pops, family and summer concerts based primarily out of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Arts.

It's led by Ivan Fischer, the principal conductor, and German pianist and conductor Christoph Eschenbach, the music director designate of both the National Symphony Orchestra and the Kennedy Center. Eschenbach will take over fully with the beginning of the 2010-2011 season [source: National Symphony Orchestra].

From 2000 until 2008, the National Symphony Orchestra and the Kennedy Center also operated the National Conducting Institute, designed to help develop new generations of orchestral conductors. The group also operates a summer music institute, youth fellowship programs and a young associates program to support young musical talent.