History of the National Symphony Orchestra

The 2017–2018 season marks the National Symphony Orchestra's 87th, and Gianandrea Noseda's first as its music director. The Italian conductor serves as the Orchestra's seventh music director, joining the NSO's legacy of such distinguished leaders as Christoph Eschenbach, Leonard Slatkin, Mstislav Rostropovich, Antal Dorati, Howard Mitchell, and Hans Kindler. The Orchestra's artistic leadership also includes Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke and Artistic Advisor Ben Folds.

Founded in 1931, the Orchestra has always been firmly committed to artistic excellence and music education. In 1986, the National Symphony became an artistic affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where it has performed a full season of subscription concerts since the Center opened in 1971. The 96-member NSO regularly participates in events of national and international importance, including official holiday celebrations through its regularly televised appearances for Capitol Concerts, and local radio broadcasts on Classical WETA 90.9FM, making the NSO one of the most-heard orchestras in the country.

The NSO performs approximately 150 concerts each year, including classical and popular concerts at the Kennedy Center, at Wolf Trap in the summer, and on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol with some of the world's most renowned talent appearing as guest artists. Many of its members give chamber music performances in the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater and on its Millennium Stage, and at theaters around Washington, D.C. The Orchestra also has a notable history of touring, both internationally and nationally, in addition to its American Residencies program, which ran from 1992 to 2011.

Known for its genre-mixing and unexpected programming, the NSO has collaborated with artists as wide-ranging as Boyz II Men, Common, Ben Folds, Kendrick Lamar, Nas, Mason Bates, and Bryce Dessner; tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain; Broadway stars Megan Hilty, Audra MacDonald, Laura Osnes, and Santino Fontana; rock stars the Indigo Girls and Melissa Etheridge, country singer LeAnn Rimes; and jazz pianist Jason Moran, among others, to create performances that are unique to the Orchestra.

The NSO is also committed to expanding the orchestral catalogue and supporting the composers of today. Through its Hechinger Commissioning Fund, the NSO has commissioned and premiered more than 60 new works by American composers since the fund's creation in 1983. Performing music of its time has always been paramount to the Orchestra's mission, and, since as early as 1934, the NSO has been bringing U.S. and world premieres to Washington, D.C. audiences.

The NSO offers an extensive education program, with a range of offerings for families and children ages three and up. Career development opportunities for young musicians include the NSO Youth Fellowship Program and its acclaimed Summer Music Institute, in which many members of the Orchestra participate, teaching and mentoring the gifted young performers selected to participate.

In addition, the NSO's community engagement projects are nationally recognized, including NSO In Your Neighborhood, which comprises a week of approximately 50 performances in schools, churches, community centers, and other neighborhood venues, and the Kennedy Center's Sound Health partnership with Renee Fleming and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which includes the NSO's work at Children's Inn at NIH, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Children's National Medical Center, and Inova Health System.

For more information, visit nationalsymphony.org.

Contact Information

  • National Symphony Orchestra
    John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
    2700 F Street, NW
    Washington, DC 20566
    Phone: 202-416-8100
    Fax: 202-416-8105

    Mailing Address:
    P.O. Box 101510
    Arlington, VA 22210