Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Celebrates 125th Anniversary With a Diverse Lineup That Nods to Its Illustrious Past

The CSO announced guests, world premieres and more for the coming season, including Anniversary Celebration concerts that will pay tribute to CSO's illustrious history and alumni

Jan 25, 2019 at 1:25 pm

click to enlarge Music Hall will come alive for Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's 125th-anniversary season - Photo: AJ Waltz
Photo: AJ Waltz
Music Hall will come alive for Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's 125th-anniversary season

“There is no better way to kick off this anniversary season than to bring people together through music in the spirit of seeking and sharing inspiration," said Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra music director Louis Langrée. He was speaking of the upcoming 125th season of the CSO, which is one of only six American orchestras to reach that milestone.

Announced Thursday (Jan. 24) at Music Hall — home to the CSO — Langrée promised a superb lineup, offering a diverse array of both up-and-coming and established musicians, including Renée Fleming, Anne Sophie-Mutter, Grammy-winner Isabel Leonard and Guy Braunstein, CSO's artist-in-residence.  

Before Langrée took the stage Thursday, the company rolled out a promotional video; enraptured faces filled the screen, moved by the Orchestra's sweeping sound. 

“Music would be nothing without you," the video proclaimed. "It’s what the music does to you that makes it great. Music is for you, regardless of who you are or where you come from.”

That sentiment is driving this year's 2019-2020 season. One new initiative is Look Around, a diverse showcase that will unfold Aug. 3 in varied Over-the-Rhine spots, with the orchestra closing things out at with a special performance at Washington Park. The free event seeks to celebrate community, diversity and inclusivity. Featuring several musicians, groups, choirs and dancers from the Cincinnati area, Langrée noted that Look Around will culminate with a new collaborative musical work from composer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Shara Nova, designer, choreographer and filmmaker Mark DeChiazza and performance poet — and a member of local Hip Hop collective Triiibe — Siri Imani, whose poem "Lost Generation" gave the event its title (“I need you to care not about yourself or obtaining your wealth/I need you to look around"). So far, the CSO has involved 30 different community organizations in Look Around. 

The orchestra will also introduce CSO Proof, a three-concert series to be presented in Music Halls's reconfigured backstage area. The series will be an intimate experience that literally brings audience members on stage. The orchestra is collaborating with curators like pianist and composer Timo Andres, visual artist Frédéric Nauczyciel and choreographer Rosie Herrera. 

"For an orchestra to evolve, it must innovate," said CSO's president Jonathan Martin. "That doesn't mean we cease performing timeless masterpieces of the orchestral canon; that music is fundamental to what we do and who we are, yet at the same time, we must take advantage of the extraordinary breadth of new, eclectic artistic talent and deploy it in a way that better engages the community we serve, and in doing that, draw inspiration from that community." 

Other Highlights 

The 2019-2020 season will officially open Sept. 20-21 with a nod to CSO's "world premieres." The orchestra will perform a pair of works by Richard Strauss conducted by Langrée, "Don Juan" and "An Alpine Symphony," the latter of which had its U.S. premiere in 1916 with the CSO. Pianists Katia and Marielle Lebèque are also part of the program and will join the orchestra to perform Cincinnati native's Bryce Dessner's "Concerto for Two Pianos," marking the piece's U.S. premiere. 

Singer Renée Fleming and the CSO will perform Strauss' "Four Last Songs" on Jan. 10, 2020, as well as works by Lili Boulanger and August Holmès. Behzod Abduraimov, a pianist from Uzbekistan, will perform Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 at the concert.

The following night (Jan. 11, 2020) is the CSO's anniversary gala concert and dinner, dubbed "Timeless." Along with more Strauss ("Cäecilie," "Morgen" and "Liebeshymnus")Fleming will sing some Broadway and classic film tunes; the works played the night before by Boulanger and Rachmaninoff will also be included. 

Jan. 18 and 19 are the 125th Anniversary Celebration concerts, which includes numerous nods to CSO's illustrious history and alumni. The program each night will open with a commissioned world premiere by William Winstead, a recently retired CSO bassoonist who performed with the orchestra for 31 years. He'll then perform "Exil!," which was composed by violinist Eugène Ysaÿe, CSO's conductor and music director from 1918-1922. Renowned Jazz pianist Aaron Diehl will make his CSO debut with Duke Ellington's 1945 composition "New World A-Comin'," which Ellington recorded with the CSO in 1970 as part of his Orchestral Works album. Also included in the Jan. 18-19 program is George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," featuring the late composer himself on piano. Sort of. A one-time guest artist with the CSO, the orchestra will be performing with a player piano and a piano roll Gershwin made in 1925 of "Rhapsody."

The January 2020 Anniversary Celebration concerts will close with Langrée conducting Russian composer Alexander Scriabin's 1910 piece "Prometheus: Poem of Fire." The performances will include the colorful instrument Scriabin's invented, the clavier à lumières ("keyboard of light"), which will be brought to life via a video installation by London-based Israeli artist and filmmaker Tal Rosner. 

Come Feb. 29-March 1, 2020, Music Hall's ballroom will be transformed into a Viennese Biergarten for Beethoven Akademie 1808, the closer of the CSO's three-year Beethoven Revolution which explored all nine of the famed composer's symphonies. The night will recreate what is said to be Beethoven's most legendary — and, some argue, most important — concert, held in December 1808 in Vienna; it premiered his Fifth and Sixth symphonies and the Fourth Piano Concerto. There will be short intermissions during each performance and a dinner break, where the audience can dine in the aforementioned ballroom-turned-Biergarten. 

Visit for tickets and full info on the CSO's 2019/2020 season. Watch CSO's Facebook Live broadcast below: