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3The first known photo of the LSO, July 1904

Our History and Archives

The LSO was the first British orchestra owned by its players, and our fiercely independent ethos has never waned. We were one of the first orchestras to make gramophone records and film scores; today we have more recordings to our name than any other orchestra in the world. We were also the first to have our own peak-time television series.

Our story started in 1904, when 50 members of the Queen’s Hall Orchestra rebelled against Sir Henry Wood’s edict that ‘no deputies’ be sent to rehearsals and concerts, and formed their own orchestra. Since then, we have seen many of the important developments of British orchestral life, including premieres of now popular works and relationships with some of the greatest conductors. And more than a century on, the revolution continues.

Explore: Stories from the Archive

Read Full Post about From the Archive: Sergei Prokofiev performs with the LSO, January 1924
Archive Dive Stories
Serge Prokofiev Prokofiev, Sergei as a young man in the 1920s

From the Archive: Sergei Prokofiev performs with the LSO, January 1924

Browse through a programme from 100 years ago today, when Prokofiev performed his First Piano Concerto with the LSO.

Read Full Post about From the Archive: A violin signed by 43 original Members
Archive Dive Stories
Signatures on the back of a violin

From the Archive: A violin signed by 43 original Members

An intriguing instrument in the LSO’s archive, and the only physical piece of evidence that stretches back to the Orchestra’s genesis in 1904.

Read Full Post about What was Leonard Bernstein's relationship with the LSO?
Archive Dive Stories
Leonard Bernstein conducting

What was Leonard Bernstein's relationship with the LSO?

From his first concert in 1966, to becoming LSO President in 1987, Leonard Bernstein had a close relationship with the LSO that spanned 24 years.

Through the Decades: Highlights



We perform our first concert on 9 June, conducted by Hans Richter at the Queen’s Hall. The LSO is Britain’s first independent, self-governing orchestra – a limited company with the players as shareholders. Approximately half the players have resigned from the Queen’s Hall Orchestra because of Henry Wood’s refusal to allow them to send deputies to rehearsals and concerts.

In our first season Hans Richter is appointed Principal Conductor (1904–11), and guest conductors include Artur Nikisch, Fritz Steinbach, Edouard Colonne and Edward Elgar.


Edward Elgar conducts our first provincial tour.


With a tour to Paris, we become the first British orchestra to tour abroad.


Thomas Beecham conducts the Orchestra for the first time.



We become the first British orchestra to visit the United States, (and narrowly avoid travelling on the Titanic due to a last minute change of schedule).


We make our first recordings, for HMV, conducted by Artur Nikisch.


World War I breaks out in August: initially concerts continue, although a few foreign conductors and soloists cancel because travel from Europe is impossible.

The first LSO players to join the Army, trumpeters Sydney Moxon and Ernest Hall, prompt the Board to waive the payment of deputies fees for members in uniform.


Thomas Beecham is Principal Conductor for one season, although never officially given the title.


Thomas Beecham gives financial assistance to the Orchestra to allow it to continue its own-promoted concert season.


An Extraordinary General Meeting is held at which the Orchestra agrees that ‘no further symphony concerts be given until the termination of the war’ due to financial difficulties. Sunday League Concerts at the Palladium continue as these are paid for by a promoter.


Adrian Boult and Richard Strauss conduct the Orchestra for the first time.


Albert Coates makes his debut with the Orchestra and is appointed Principal Conductor (1919–22). He conducts our first own-promoted series since 1917.



Lord Howard de Walden is appointed Honorary President in gratitude for his financial support of the Orchestra.

We sign a three-year contract with the Columbia Gramophone Company.


Walter Wanger from United Artists promotes a series of super-films in Covent Garden Opera House, conducted by Eugene Goossens, making his debut with the Orchestra.


We purchase our first instrument van from Ford for £200.

Wilhelm Furtwängler conducts the Orchestra for the first time.


The LSO Board becomes fully elective and the Endowment Fund is created.

Our first BBC radio broadcast from Southwark Cathedral is conducted by Vaughan Williams (his own ‘Pastoral’ Symphony).


We turn 21, and celebrate with a concert conducted by Edward Elgar and Serge Koussevitzky. Each member of the Orchestra is given a bonus of £20.


John Barbirolli makes his London conducting debut with the Orchestra.


We become a contracted permanent orchestra of 75 players, each with the guarantee of a specified number of performances over a three-year term.

Yehudi Menuhin makes his London debut, aged twelve, playing Brahms’ Violin Concerto with the Orchestra.



Yehudi Menuhin records Elgar’s Violin Concerto with the composer conducting, and Sergei Prokofiev records his Third Piano Concerto with the Orchestra.

William Walton conducts the world premiere of his Viola Concerto with Lionel Tertis as soloist.


We record the film score for Things to Come. Based on the book by H G Wells, with music by Arthur Bliss, it is the first symphonic score specifically composed for a film recording.


We give the world premiere of Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music, conducted by Henry Wood.

Bruno Walter makes a series of recordings with the Orchestra.



Henry Wood conducts the Orchestra in its first Proms season at the Queen’s Hall, and then tours all over the UK with the Orchestra during the war years.


We record many film soundtracks, including the 49th Parallel and Dangerous Moonlight.


We perform in a film called Instruments of the Orchestra, featuring the premiere of Benjamin Britten’s The Young Persons’ Guide to the Orchestra.

Samuel Barber conducts the Orchestra in his Adagio for Strings at the Three Choirs Festival.


Benjamin Britten first conducts the Orchestra at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival.



We are one of several orchestras to perform at the formal opening of the Royal Festival Hall by George VI.


In our 50th anniversary Jubilee Concert at the Royal Festival Hall we perform a repeat of the music from our inaugural concert of 1904, conducted by Malcolm Sargent, Anthony Collins, Basil Cameron, George Weldon and Muir Mathieson.


After a major policy crisis and a mass resignation of Principals, the Orchestra suddenly becomes a new, young and dynamic ensemble with an average age of around 30.


We become the first British orchestra to visit South Africa when we perform at the Johannesburg Festival.


Colin Davis conducts the Orchestra for the first time at the Royal Festival Hall.



The LSO International Series is initiated.


Pierre Monteux becomes Principal Conductor (1961–64) at the age of 86, stipulating a 25-year contract with a renewal clause.


We record Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem with the composer conducting.

The Board of Trustees is set up to receive and administer funds for the wellbeing and financial stability of the Orchestra. The committee includes Benjamin Britten, Robert Mayer, Jack Lyons and five members of the LSO Board of Directors.

We become the first British orchestra to visit Japan, with Pierre Monteux, Antal Dorati and Georg Solti. BBC TV, with David Attenborough directing, accompany the Orchestra to make a Monitor programme.


We make our first World Tour: to Israel, Turkey, Iran, India, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan and the United States, where we give a concert at the United Nations HQ in New York.


Jacqueline du Pré records Elgar’s Cello Concerto with John Barbirolli conducting.

Negotiations begin with the Corporation of the City of London regarding our Barbican residency.


We have our first season as resident orchestra at the Florida International Festival.

Leonard Bernstein conducts the Orchestra for the first time, in a performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No 7 at the Royal Festival Hall.

In our second World Tour we visit the Asia and Australia, conducted by István Kertész and Colin Davis.

The LSO Chorus is formed with John Alldis as chorus master.


We visit Florida again, this time accompanied by J B Priestley, who writes about his experiences in the book Trumpets over the Sea.

The BBC makes a documentary film about the Orchestra, called We Are The Music Makers.


André Previn conducts his first concert as Principal Conductor, a Gala in aid of the LSO Trust, with Jacqueline du Pré. Previn spent eleven years as our Principal Conductor (1968–79), the longest period of any Principal Conductor thus far.



BBC TV presents the first André Previn’s Music Night – the popular television series, which brings classical music and the LSO to the attention of a huge new audience.


Leopold Stokowski celebrates the 60th anniversary of his first concert with the Orchestra by conducting the identical programme.


We are the first British orchestra to be invited to perform at the Salzburg Festival, conducted by André Previn, Seiji Ozawa and Karl Böhm.

We perform in Benjamin Britten’s 60th Birthday Concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

Leonard Bernstein makes a video recording of Mahler’s Symphony No 2 (‘Resurrection’).


We become the first UK orchestra to appear at the Hollywood Bowl.


Led by Sir Jack Lyons, the LSO Trust, in conjunction with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, restores Holy Trinity Church in Southwark to become a much-needed rehearsal venue, Henry Wood Hall.


We perform a William Walton 75th Birthday Concert.

Aram Khachaturian conducts the Orchestra in a concert and recording session, not long before his death.

Star Wars is released, with a score by John Williams, performed by the Orchestra. Trumpeter Maurice Murphy first plays with the LSO on these sessions.


We share in three Grammy awards for the score to Star Wars.

Classic Rock recordings become hugely popular and provide handsome royalties.


Our 75th Anniversary celebrations include a Gala Concert at the Royal Fesitval Hall in the presence of HRH The Prince of Wales.

Claudio Abbado makes an acclaimed recording of Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky.



The Barbican Centre opens, and we take up our first ever London orchestral residency.


We are the subject of a BBC TV documentary series, Life of an Orchestra, produced by Jenny Barraclough.


The highly successful Mahler, Vienna and the Twentieth Century Festival, conceived by Claudio Abbado, heralds a new format of themed concert series for the Orchestra and London.


We mount a Bernstein Festival.


Leonard Bernstein becomes President of the Orchestra until his death in 1990.

We celebrate the 60th birthday of Mstislav Rostropovich with a special concert series.


We establish and education policy and found LSO Discovery.


We win the first ever Royal Philharmonic Society Orchestral Award for ‘excellence in playing and playing standards’.

We give concert performances of Bernstein’s Candide, conducted by the composer and video-recorded by Deutsche Grammophon.



We visit Japan with Leonard Bernstein and Michael Tilson Thomas, creating the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo with teaching and masterclasses for young musicians from all around the world.


Colin Matthews is appointed Associate Composer.

Mstislav Rostropovich conducts the Prokofiev Centenary Festival.


We win five Gramophone awards, and share a Grammy award for Candide.


We record Concerto! with Michael Tilson Thomas – a major TV series made for Channel 4 with Dudley Moore, which wins an Emmy Award.

Bernard Haitink conducts the LSO for the first time.


We receive the first ever Evening Standard Classical Music Award for ‘Outstanding Ensemble Performance’.

Classic FM broadcasts The LSO – 90 Glorious Years, a 13-part history of the Orchestra.


Our first website is launched.


Our annual New York residency established – the first by a British orchestra. To coincide with the residency, WQXR in New York begins an annual series of radio features about the Orchestra.


We become the first British orchestra to offer online booking for concerts.


Sir Colin Davis conducts the Berlioz Odyssey – a series of all Berlioz’s major works. The Festival continues through 2000, when a performance of Les Troyens is given to wide acclaim. Many of the performances, including Les Troyens in 2000, are recorded for the LSO’s new record label, LSO Live.



LSO Live, the Orchestra’s own record label, is launched, preserving outstanding performances at the Barbican.

We win a Royal Philharmonic Society Award and become the first orchestra to receive this award for a second time.


LSO Live wins two Grammy awards and a Classical Brit award for the recording of Les Troyens with Colin Davis.

Many of the world’s greatest artists come to our Barbican concert to celebrate Mstislav Rostropovich’s 75th birthday.

The George Benjamin By George! Festival, continuing through to 2003, wins a Royal Philharmonic Society Award.


LSO St Luke’s, our music venue on Old Street, is opened.

Colin Davis conducts the Berlioz Bicentenary Festival.

LSO Live sales top 250,000.


Our Centenary Gala Concert on 9 June is attended by the LSO’s Patron, Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh.

The complete LSO Live catalogue is made available to download online in an exclusive deal with iTunes, the first such deal.


A new residency at Salle Pleyel in Paris is announced, beginning with Bernard Haitink conducting Beethoven.

LSO Live wins a Grammy Award in the Best Opera category for Verdi’s Falstaff, conducted by Colin Davis.


We celebrates Colin Davis’ 80th birthday with a performance of James MacMillan’s St John Passion, commissioned by the LSO with generous support from The Wilford Foundation, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (Edward Van Beinum Foundation), the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Rundfunkchor Berlin (member of roc Berlin).

LSO Discovery launches LSO On Track, an extensive programme of music education work for East London schools and music services, in partnership with the Music Services of ten East London Boroughs, the Barbican and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.


We celebrate 50 years of working with Colin Davis, who in the same year is awarded the Queen’s Medal for Music at a special concert and ceremony at Mansion House.



The Orchestra visits Poland and Abu Dhabi for the first time; and in April returns to Mumbai in India for the first time since the World Tour of 1964.

LSO Discovery celebrates its 20th anniversary with a concert at the Barbican Hall in June, featuring performances by many of its groups including Community and Youth choirs, Gamelan Group, Fusion Orchestra and LSO On Track.


Sir Colin Davis receives the Commander of the Order of the Dannebrog from Denmark to celebrate his commitment to Danish culture through his LSO Live recordings of the Nielsen symphonies.

LSO Pulse, a new app and loyalty scheme for students, is launched. The app later became Student Pulse, a pioneering programme encompassing the concerts of multiple London orchestras and venues.


We record the soundtracks to the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and perform with Rowan Atkinson in a segment of the Olympic Opening Ceremony in front of an audience of 4 billion.

The first free BMW Classics concert takes place in Trafalgar Square, where we perform to an audience of approximately 7,000 people.

One hundred years after first visiting the US, the Orchestra returns to New York City for two celebratory concerts at the Lincoln Center.


LSO Live releases its 100th release, a Colin Davis Anthology Box Set, to coincide with the anniversary of his death in April.


Michael Tilson Thomas and the Orchestra embark upon a tour of the US West Coast to celebrate his 70th birthday and 40 years working with the Orchestra.


We take part in a series of concerts and events across London marking 400 years since Shakespeare’s death and celebrating the enormous contribution of his work to arts and culture.

Peter Maxwell Davies’ final work, The Hogboon, a new children’s opera commissioned by the LSO, is premiered posthumously following the composer’s death earlier in the year.


A new visual identity, by The Partners, is launched along with Sir Simon Rattle’s first season as Music Director. It immediately garners critical acclaim, including several international design and branding awards.

The Orchestra visits Vietnam for the first time – the first British orchestra to do so – for an open air concert in March, performed to around 60,000 people.


Sir Simon Rattle joins forces with two other conductors – Duncan Ward and Matthias Pintscher – for a unique staging of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s vast, complex Gruppen in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern.

LSO On Track, the LSO’s inspirational music education and outreach programme in East London, celebrates its tenth anniversary.


The LSO embarks on its first tour to Latin America with Sir Simon Rattle, performing concerts in the capitals of five countries – Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile – over the course of two weeks.

The pilot year of the LSO East London Academy is launched, with 20 string players from across East London joining the programme for workshops, masterclasses and performances.



The LSO and Sir Simon Rattle mark Beethoven’s 250th anniversary year with performances of Christ on the Mount of Olives and Symphony No 9.

The LSO responds quickly to the Covid-19 pandemic, launching Always Playing – a programme of online archive broadcasts and digital content – in March, creating new digital learning resources, delivering online coaching for partners, and running some of the first socially distanced concerts at LSO St Luke’s.


In May and June, the LSO returns to the Barbican Hall for six concerts with socially distanced audiences, followed by the Orchestra’s first tour appearances for over 16 months at Snape Maltings and the Aix-en-Provence Festival, and the return of BMW Classics in Trafalgar Square.

Sir Antonio Pappano is named as the next Chief Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, becoming Chief Conductor Designate in September 2023, and Chief Conductor from 2024.

The studio album Promises by Floating Points, legendary saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and the LSO is released to great critical acclaim, making the shortlist for the Mercury Prize.


Barbara Hannigan and André J Thomas are announced as the LSO’s new Associate Artists.

We celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Barbican, where the LSO is Resident Orchestra, with pre-concert foyer performances by the LSO East London Academy, Ayanna Witter-Johnson and the LSO Percussion Ensemble, and LSO Create, followed by Joseph Haydn’s The Creation in the Barbican Hall.

Sir Simon Rattle conducts a spectacular gala concert in St Paul’s Cathedral, a rare performance of Hector Berlioz’s dramatic Grande symphonie funèbre et triomphale.

Gallery: Our History in Pictures