The renowned Boston Symphony Orchestra gave its inaugural concert on October 22, 1881. It has continued to uphold the vision of its founder, the philanthropist, Civil War veteran, and amateur musician Henry Lee Higginson, who dreamed of founding a great and permanent orchestra in Boston for many years. The first concert was given under the direction of conductor Georg Henschel, who remained music director until 1884. For nearly twenty years, concerts were held in the Old Boston Music Hall, then in Symphony Hall from 1900, one of the world’s most highly regarded concert halls. Henschel was succeeded by a series of German born and trained conductors: Wilhelm Gericke, Arthur Nikisch, Emil Paur, and Max Fiedler – culminating in the appointment of the legendary Karl Muck, who served two terms as music director, 1906 – 08 and 1912 – 18.
Meanwhile, in July 1885, the musicians of the Boston Symphony Orchestra had given their first “Promenade ” , concert, offering both music and refreshments. This fulfilled Major Higginson’s with to give “concerts of a lighter kind of music.” These concerts, soon to be given in the springtime and renamed, first “Popular ” and then “Pops” , fast became a tradition. Recording, began with the Victor Talking Maching Company ( predecessor to RCA Victor ) in 1917, and continued with increasing frequency, as did radio broadcasts.
In 1918 Henri Rabaud was engaged as conductor; he was succeeded a year later by Pierre Monteux. There appointments marked the beginning of a French-oriented tradition which was maintained, even during the Russian-born Serge Koussevitzky’s time from 1924, with the employment of many French-trained musicians. Koussevitzky’s extraordinary musicianship and electric personality proved so enduring that he served an unprecedented term of twenty-five years. Regular radio broadcasts of Boston Symphony concerts began during Koussevitzky’s years as music director. In 1936 Koussevitzky led the orchestra’s first concerts in the Berkshires; a year later he and the players took up annual summer residence at Tanglewood. Koussevitzky passionately shared Majoy Higginson’s dream of ” a good honest school for musicians, ” and in 1940 that dream was realized with the founding of the Berkshire Music Center ( now called the Tanglewood Music Center).