In 1920, prior to the 1946 founding of the Nashville Symphony, a group of amateur and professional musicians established an orchestral ensemble in Nashville, electing Nashville Banner music critic and Vanderbilt University professor George Pullen Jackson to serve as their president and manager. Despite steady growth over the next decade, that organization fell victim to The Depression. In 1945, World War II veteran and Nashville native Walter Sharp returned home from the war intent on establishing a new symphony for Middle Tennessee. With the assistance of a small number of fellow music lovers, he convinced community leaders of this need and the Nashville Symphony was founded.
Sharp retained William Strickland, a young conductor from New York, to serve as its first music director and conductor. The orchestra performed its first concert in the fall of 1946 at War Memorial Auditorium in downtown Nashville. Over the ensuing five seasons, Strickland was responsible for setting the high performance standards that the orchestra and its conductors have maintained to this day. Guy Taylor (1951–1959), Willis Page (1959–1967), Thor Johnson (1967–1975) and Michael Charry (1976–1982) were successive music directors. During Charry's tenure, the symphony moved its subscription series from War Memorial Auditorium to Jackson Hall in the Tennessee Performing Arts Center.
Beginning in 1983, Music Director and Principal Conductor Kenneth Schermerhorn led the Nashville Symphony for 22 years, until his death in April 2005. The orchestra's profile increased during his tenure through recordings, television broadcasts and an East Coast tour, which culminated in a performance at Carnegie Hall on September 25, 2000. Following Schermerhorn's death, in August 2006, Leonard Slatkin was named the orchestra's artistic advisor, for a contract of three years, through 2009.
In September 2006, the Symphony opened Schermerhorn Symphony Center, a $123.5 million project, which includes Laura Turner Concert Hall. Slatkin conducted the orchestra's first concert in the new hall on September 9, 2006, which included works by Shostakovich, Barber and Mahler, and a world premiere Triple Concerto by Bela Fleck, Zakir Hussain and Edgar Meyer.
In September 2007, the orchestra announced the appointment of Costa Rican conductor Giancarlo Guerrero as the seventh music director of the Nashville Symphony, effective with the 2009-2010 season. His initial contract is for 5 years. Under his direction, the orchestra received the 2011 ASCAP award for Programming of Contemporary Music.
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