One of Tennessee’s largest and longest-running nonprofit performing arts organizations, the Nashville Symphony has been an integral part of the Music City sound since 1946. Led by music director Giancarlo Guerrero, the 83-member ensemble performs more than 150 concerts annually, with a focus on contemporary American orchestral music through collaborations with composers including Jennifer Higdon, Aaron Jay Kernis and John Harbison. The orchestra is equally renowned for its unique commissioning and recording projects with Nashville-based artists including bassist Edgar Meyer, banjoist Béla Fleck, singer-songwriter Ben Folds and electric bassist Victor Wooten.
The Nashville Symphony is one of the most active recording orchestras in the U.S., with 29 releases on Naxos, the world’s largest independent classical label. Encompassing a wide range of repertoire, from Beethoven to Bernstein to Joan Tower, these recordings have earned a total of 13 GRAMMY® Awards and 24 nominations. Award-winning recordings include Tower’s Made in America, Stephen Paulus’ Three Places of Enlightenment and Michael Daugherty’s Metropolis Symphony and Tales of Hemingway. Released in 2015, the orchestra’s recording of Ben Folds’ Piano Concerto debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Classical and Classical Crossover charts, and stayed in the Classical Crossover Top 20 in the first year of its release.
Education and community engagement have been at the core of the Nashville Symphony’s mission since its founding. Each year the organization reaches 60,000 children and adults with more than 20 free or low-cost programs, including Young People’s Concerts for K-12 students; sectional lessons with band and orchestra students; and free Community Concerts. In 2016, the Nashville Symphony launched Accelerando, a forward-thinking initiative designed to prepare young musicians from underrepresented ethnic communities for collegiate study and professional orchestra careers. Participating students receive individual instrument instruction, performance opportunities, and guidance on applying to colleges and conservatories.
Schermerhorn Symphony Center, the orchestra’s home since 2006, is widely considered one of the world’s finest acoustical venues. Named in honor of former music director Kenneth Schermerhorn and located in the heart of Nashville’s booming downtown, the building boasts distinctive neo-Classical architecture incorporating motifs and design elements that pay homage to the history, culture and people of Middle Tennessee. Within its intimate “shoebox” design, the 1,800-seat Laura Turner Concert Hall contains several unique features, including soundproof windows, the 3,500-pipe Martin Foundation Concert Organ, and an innovative mechanical system that converts the hall from theater-style seating to ballroom configuration in less than two hours.
In addition to its classical and education programming, the Nashville Symphony offers a wide variety of performances, including pop, rock, jazz, country and family concerts. Schermerhorn Symphony Center has become an in-demand venue for artists including Sheryl Crow, Tony Bennett, Diana Ross, Willie Nelson, Alabama, and Boyz II Men, all of whom have performed with the Nashville Symphony. The orchestra also performs regularly at Nashville’s Ascend Amphitheater.
The Nashville Symphony’s beginnings can be traced to 1945, when World War II veteran and Nashville native Walter Sharp returned home intent on establishing a new symphony orchestra 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 the first music director and conductor. 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) followed Strickland in the role of music director, with the orchestra performing at historic War Memorial Auditorium in downtown Nashville until the opening of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in 1980. From 1983 until his death in early 2005, the Nashville Symphony flourished under the dynamic leadership of Music Director and Principal Conductor Kenneth Schermerhorn. A noted conductor, composer and music educator, Maestro Schermerhorn led the ensemble to new levels of artistic achievement, while nurturing the tradition of excellence that has characterized the symphony since its inception. Under his leadership, the orchestra performed a critically acclaimed debut concert at Carnegie Hall and undertook a sold-out East Coast tour in 2000, and it embarked on fruitful partnership with the Naxos label that has, to date, yielded more than 20 critically acclaimed recordings.
In 2003, the Nashville Symphony broke ground on the $123.5 million Schermerhorn Symphony Center, the orchestra’s new home, which opened on September 9, 2006. This cultural center in downtown Nashville has attracted global attention for its acoustical excellence and distinctive neo-Classical architecture, and its opening marked the beginning of an exciting new chapter in the history of the Nashville Symphony. While the orchestra conducted a search for a new music director to succeed Maestro Schermerhorn, renowned conductor Leonard Slatkin assumed the post of Music Advisor. Under his guidance, the orchestra earned three GRAMMY® Awards for its recording of Joan Tower’s Made in America in 2007 and produced an internationally syndicated radio program, American Encores.
With the arrival of current Music Director Giancarlo Guerrero in 2008, the Nashville Symphony has continued its spectacular rise to prominence with an active schedule of recordings, commissions and world premieres. Since the beginning of its partnership with Naxos in 2000, the orchestra’s recordings have received a total of 13 GRAMMY® Awards out of 24 nominations.