The Story of Scotland’s National Orchestra

January 19

Scottish Orchestra is founded

The Orchestra was officially founded as the Scottish Orchestra following earlier gathering of orchestral players to accompany the Glasgow Choral Union in the first Scottish performance of Handel's Messiah in April 1844.
January 19

George Henschel

George Henschel becomes the Orchestra’s first Principal Conductor, and the Orchestra gives its first orchestral concerts under its new title.
January 22

Willem Kes

Willem Kes becomes Principal Conductor.
January 19

First overseas tour

Scottish Orchestra’s first overseas tour: a two-week trip to the Netherlands, under Principal Conductor Willem Kes.
January 22

Wilhelm Bruch

Wilhelm Bruch becomes Principal Conductor.
January 19

Gustav Holst

Gustav Holst joins the Scottish Orchestra as second trombonist. He would stay with the Orchestra until 1904. You can see him in this photo, circled in red - he's third from the left in the back row. Click here to view larger image
January 22

Frederic Cowen

Dr Frederic H Cowen becomes Principal Conductor.
January 19

Richard Strauss

Richard Strauss conducts the Orchestra in a programme including his Don Juan and Death and Transfiguration.
January 22

Emil Mlynarski

Emil Mlynarski becomes Principal Conductor.
January 19

Artur Rubinstein

Pianist Artur Rubinstein visits to perform Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the Scottish Orchestra in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
January 19

First World War – Concerts Abandoned

Concerts by the Scottish Orchestra were abandoned between 1916 and 1918, due to the First World War.
January 22

Landon Ronald

Landon Ronald becomes Principal Conductor.
January 19

The Great Depression

Orchestra faces financial troubles during the Depression, but subscribers and guarantors put in healthy funds that guaranteed the Orchestra’s future.
January 19

John Barbirolli

John Barbirolli becomes Principal Conductor.
January 19

George Szell

George Szell becomes Principal Conductor.
January 19

World War II

The Orchestra's concert programme was reduced at the outbreak of the Second World War, with concerts being cancelled at short notice following threats of air raids.
January 22

Aylmer Buesst

Aylmer Buesst becomes Principal Conductor.
January 22

Warwick Braithwaite

Warwick Braithwaite becomes Principal Conductor.
January 19

Double the concerts!

The Orchestra management double the number of season concerts from 27 to 53, admitting it is an ‘adventure’ – but the fuller season becomes a permanent feature.
January 22

Walter Susskind

Walter Susskind becomes Principal Conductor.
January 19

The first Edinburgh International Festival

The Scottish Orchestra performs under Principal Conductor Walter Susskind at the inaugural Edinburgh International Festival.
January 19

The Scottish National Orchestra – a full-time band

Orchestra renamed Scottish National Orchestra, and becomes a permanent, full-time ensemble.
January 22

Karl Rankl

Karl Rankl becomes Principal Conductor.
January 22

Hans Swarowsky

Hans Swarowsky becomes Principal Conductor.
January 19

Alexander Gibson

Alexander Gibson becomes Principal Conductor. He would remain in the post for the next 25 years, performing all seven Sibelius symphonies in his opening season.
January 19

Contemporary Music

Alexander Gibson founds Musica Viva, first a concert and later a triennial festival of contemporary music. Later renamed Musica Nova, it would continue until 1990.
January 19

St Andrew's Hall Fire

St Andrew’s Hall in Glasgow, the SNO’s principal concert venue, is almost entirely destroyed by fire on 26 October, following a boxing match.
January 19

Scottish Opera

Scottish National Orchestra accompanies the first production of Scottish Opera, conducted by Alexander Gibson.
January 19

Aaron Copland

American composer Aaron Copland conducts a programme that includes his Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo.
January 19

First European Tour

Alexander Gibson takes the SNO on its first European tour, beginning in Vienna’s Musikverein, with two very famous British soloists: cellist Jacqueline du Pré and mezzo-soprano Janet Baker.
January 19

Alexander Gibson CBE

Principal Conductor Alexander Gibson receives a CBE – Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – in Her Majesty The Queen's 1967 New Year Honours List, announced on 30 December 1966.
January 19

City Halls, Glasgow

Scottish National Orchestra gives its first concert in its new home, Glasgow’s City Halls.
January 19

USA and Canada Tour

The Scottish National Orchestra makes its first tour of the USA and Canada.
January 1

Her Majesty The Queen becomes patron

January 19

Sir Alexander Gibson CBE

Principal Conductor Alexander Gibson CBE receives a Knighthood for services to music in Scotland in Her Majesty The Queen's 1977 Silver Jubilee and Birthday Honours list, announced on 11 June 1977.
January 19

RSNO Junior Chorus

The RSNO Junior Chorus is formed by Jean Kidd.
January 19

Henry Wood Hall

The Scottish National Orchestra moves into the Henry Wood Hall – formerly Trinity Church – on Claremont Street as its new rehearsal space.
January 19

Neeme Järvi

Neeme Järvi becomes Principal Conductor.
January 19

Peter and the Wolf

Lina Llubera, Prokofiev’s widow, narrates Peter and the Wolf for the Chandos Records recording, conducted by Neeme Järvi.
January 20

Gramophone Award – Orchestral

The Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Neeme Järvi, wins a Gramophone Award in the Orchestral category for its recording of Prokofiev's Symphony No6 and Three Waltzes on the Chandos Records label.
January 19

Japan Tour

The Scottish National Orchestra tours Japan.
January 19

Bryden Thomson

Bryden Thomson becomes Principal Conductor.
January 19

The Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Opening of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. The SNO gives its first concert there in October 1990, in the presence of HRH The Princess Royal.
January 19

Luciano Pavarotti

The Scottish National Orchestra performs with Luciano Pavarotti at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre.
January 19

Walter Weller

Walter Weller becomes Principal Conductor.
January 19


Orchestra confirms its royal patronage with a name change to Royal Scottish National Orchestra. However, this was subsequently (and briefly!) shortened to Royal Scottish Orchestra, and then finally renamed Royal Scottish National Orchestra in 1992.
January 19

Christopher Bell

Christopher Bell becomes Chorus Director of the RSNO Junior Chorus, and membership expands to almost 300.
January 19

Film Soundtracks with Elmer Bernstein

Orchestra records the score for To Kill a Mockingbird under the baton of the composer himself, Elmer Bernstein. This is later followed by recordings of The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape.
January 19

Alexander Lazarev

Alexander Lazarev becomes Principal Conductor.
January 19

Gramophone Award – Film Music

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Joel McNeely, wins the first ever Gramophone Award in the film music category for its recording of Bernard Herrmann's original motion picture score of Vertigo on the Varèse Sarabande label.
January 19

Royal Philharmonic Society Award

The RSNO wins the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Rumble in the Jungle, an education project for under-fives.
October 9

Opening the new Scottish Parliament

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra performs at the opening of Holyrood, the new Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh, in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen.
January 19

Stéphane Denève

Stéphane Denève becomes Music Director.
January 19

A National Performing Company

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra becomes one of Scotland’s five national performing companies, supported directly by the Scottish Government.
January 19

Diapason d’Or de l’année

The RSNO conducted by Stéphane Denève win the prestigious Diapason d’Or de l’année for their disc of Debussy orchestral works.
January 19

Peter Oundjian

Peter Oundjian becomes Music Director.
January 19

Thomas Søndergård

Thomas Søndergård becomes Principal Guest Conductor.
January 19


The RSNO produces Astar – a CD featuring Scottish songs, nursery rhymes and classical works, which was given to every child born in Scotland between October 2012 and October 2013.
December 27

China Tour

On 27 December 2012, the RSNO departed for a Hogmanay tour of China with Music Director Peter Oundjian, returning to Scotland on 7 January 2013.
January 19

The new RSNO Centre

The musicians and administrative staff of the RSNO move into the RSNO Centre at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall – a purpose-built new home right in the centre of Glasgow, Scotland’s UNESCO City of Music. At the heart of the building is Glasgow’s newest performance space: an acoustically adjustable, 600-seat auditorium that provides world-class rehearsal and recording facilities for the Orchestra. The RSNO Centre also houses a dedicated education space, the Robertson Learning and Engagement Centre.