The Russian State Symphony Orchestra is one of the primary orchestras of Russia. Regular symphonic activity in Moscow began in 1959, when Nikolas Rubinstein founded a Moscow branch of the Russian Musical Society, and in the next year founded the Moscow Conservatory. The RMS gave concerts in the Assembly of Nobles or the auditorium of the Bol'shoi (Great) Theater, home of the city's opera company. In 1883, the Moscow Philharmonic Society was founded and also gave concerts. In these years, several private orchestras were also founded and existed for short periods.
The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution resulted in the nationalization of the Conservatory on June 12, 1918, and most old musical institutions were replaced with government and party run ones. The Great (Bol'shoi) Hall of the Moscow Conservatory was taken over for public concert use. (Thus, there are two musical spaces in Moscow with the name "Bol'shoi." Even more confusingly, the orchestra giving concerts at the conservatory was the "Corporation of Solo Artists of the Bol'shoi Theater.") The Education Commisariat had a symphony orchestra, called MUZO Narkompros as a shortening of its full bureaucratic name beginning in 1920. The State Philharmonic was established in 1920. The Russian Philharmonic existed from 1925 to 1928, then was replaced by the Soviet Philharmonic (1928-1931) and finally the Moscow Philharmonic (1931 onwards).
Two new orchestras were founded in the 1930s. First (1931) was the Grand (the word Bol'shoi, again) Symphony Orchestra of All-Union Radio, variously called the USSR Radio Symphony or Radio Moscow Symphony.
In 1936 the USSR State Symphony Orchestra (Gosudarstvennii Simfonicheskii Orkestr Soyuza SSR) was founded and intended to be the premier orchestra of the Soviet Union and gave its first concert in October of that year at the Great Hall of the Conservatory. (Despite official intentions, for most of the time the Leningrad-later St. Petersburg-Philharmonic has generally been ranked as the country's greatest orchestra.) True to its founding as a national orchestra, it began its first tour of the vast country in 1937. Its initial conductor was Aleksandr Gauk (1936-1941). Nathan Rakhlin served during the war years (1941-1945) and his successor was Konstantin Ivanov (1946-1965).
Taking the podium in 1965 and presiding over the orchestra for the majority of its existence has been Evgeni Svetlanov, who has maintained the orchestra's high standards during the changing times to follow. Over the years the orchestra has given many important premiere performances and has been conducted by eminent guest artists from Russia and abroad, and has extensively recorded, especially, during the Soviet era, for Melodiya, the State record company, and its predecessors. It also broadcast on radio and television on a regular basis. It did not make its first foreign tour until 1957, and first visited North America in 1960. It has frequently toured abroad since then.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the orchestra was renamed the Russian State Symphony Orchestra (sometimes Russian Federation Symphony Orchestra). It made its first trip outside the country under its new name in 1992, a five-month sojourn taking it to France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, South Korea, and Japan. It continues to appear abroad, appears regularly in both Moscow and St. Petersburg, and often tours other cities in the country. In the 1990s it recorded a massive overview of the entire history of Russian symphonic music on a hundred compact discs.
The new openness following the end of Communist rule has led to an increase the orchestra's playing of music of Western composers, with especially strong interest in works of Mahler and Villa-Lobos.