The Montreal Symphony Orchestra (MSO), equally known as l'Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM), was established in 1934. Over the years it has grown in stature to become, particularly under the long and fruitful leadership of Charles Dutoit, one of the world's outstanding orchestras.
The MSO was founded by a group of ambitious local music lovers in the cultural center and largest city of Quebec. In the beginning, the orchestra succeeded in securing the financial support of the provincial government, a vital element to its longevity. The first concert took place in January 1935, and the program included, among the classics, a work by Canadian composer, Calixa Lavallée. Soon after, Wilfred Pelletier, originally from Montreal but then working at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, was appointed the first Music Director. In his five years, Pelletier launched a matinée series for young people, and outdoor summer concerts on Mount Royal, the wooded hill that dominates the city (and gives it its name). In 1940, Pelletier was succeeded by Désiré Defauw, and Pelletier is commemorated to this day by having the orchestra's concert hall at the Place-des-Arts complex named after him.
Throughout the next couple of decades, various well-known conductors visited Montreal to work with the orchestra, including Pierre Monteux, Bruno Walter, Leonard Bernstein, and even Igor Stravinsky. In 1957, composer-conductor Igor Markevitch became music director, and it was during his tenure that the orchestra gained full professional status. He was succeeded by the young Zubin Mehta, who took the MSO on its first European tour. Franz-Paul Decker took over in 1967, followed briefly by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, and then, in 1977, by Charles Dutoit.
It was under the direction of this Swiss-born Dutoit that the MSO has achieved true international status. Dutoit took the orchestra on numerous tours throughout North and South America, Europe, and Asia. Since 1982, the MSO has given acclaimed annual performances at Carnegie Hall, and has also appeared at the Hollywood Bowl and Tanglewood. In addition, Dutoit's recording contract with Decca/London resulted in a long list of award-winning discs. The MSO's 1984 recording of Ravel's Bolero went platinum; other issues garnered Grammy awards and a number of other prizes. Their series of Berlioz recordings were particularly acclaimed. After Dutoit's retirement in 2002, the Orchestra took its time finding its next director, finally naming Kent Nagano as music director in 2006. With Nagano, its recordings continue to receive high recognition.
The MSO continues to receive provincial and national support for its operations, and it serves as a major cultural ambassador, not only for Montreal, but for Quebec and Canada as well. At the same time, the local population remains dedicated to the orchestra, and the annual performances at the historic Notre Dame Basilica in Old Montreal are popular with both young and old.