There has been an orchestra in Edmonton, in one form or another, dating back almost to the establishment of the city. And while 1920 saw the first performance of a community orchestra under the name Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, it was the vision and guidance of a small and dedicated group that brought about the professional ESO in 1952, by establishing the Edmonton Symphony Society.
In the last 50-plus years, the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra has taken its place as one of Canada's foremost orchestral ensembles. Its current roster includes 56 musicians from Canada and around the world, performing a wide-ranging repertoire from the great classical masterworks to pops and children's concerts.
During the course of its rich first half-century, the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra has played a vital role in the cultural life and well-being of the city, and beyond. Tours have taken the ESO throughout central and northern Alberta, as well as to Canada's northern territories. The orchestra's musicians contribute both as an institution and individually to the nurturing of Edmonton's artistic community – as performers, clinicians, and especially as teachers.
The ESO takes a leading role in music education for students in every grade level. The Education Concerts, which have received national acclaim for their content and quality, give students an opportunity to hear and see a live orchestral performance designed especially for them. The Adopt-A-Player program for grades 4-6 was born in 1996. ESO musicians are paired with select elementary schools and then work with the teacher and students to create an original piece of music, which each group brings to life in a family concert performed at Winspear Centre. The Young Composers Project for grades 7-12 give selected students an opportunity to work with the ESO's Composer-In-Residence and have their composition played by the ESO.
The Edmonton Symphony regards as its artistic mission to bring the highest quality of live orchestral performance to a broad spectrum of the community. This includes central and northern Alberta as well as national and international audiences through broadcasts and recordings. The ESO began its 'run-out' program in 1956 with a performance in Fort Saskatchewan. Since then, the orchestra has performed in venues across Alberta, western Canada and the Northwest Territories. In fact, the ESO became the first symphony orchestra to ever perform in the NWT back in 1959. The 1994 "Northern Lights" tour took the orchestra to Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Inuvik. At another run-out in 1996, the orchestra became the first in Canada to play on a First Nations reserve.
The Francis Winspear Centre for Music is the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra's performance home. Located in the Arts District in the heart of downtown Edmonton, the intimate surroundings of Winspear Centre offer an up-close musical experience like no other. The incredible acoustics of the hall allow music to be performed 'unplugged' and are equal to the great concert halls of the world.
Of course, run-out concerts take the orchestra to everything from community theatres to high school gymnasiums, and the immensely popular Symphony Under the Sky festival brings the orchestra to the great outdoors at the end of every summer in scenic Hawrelak Park.
The presence of the orchestra and its enrichment of the community's quality of life are key elements in the stature and profile of Edmonton on the national and international scene.