There has been an orchestra in Edmonton, in one form or another, for the past century. While 1920 saw the first performance of an amateur community orchestra under the name Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, it was the vision and guidance of a small and dedicated group of music lovers that created the current ESO of professional musicians in 1952 by establishing the Edmonton Symphony Society.
Over the last 65 years, the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra has taken its place as one of Canada's foremost orchestral ensembles. Its current roster is 56 musicians from Canada and around the world, performing repertoire ranging from great classical masterworks to pops and children's concerts.
During the course of its rich history, 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. Education Concerts give students an opportunity to hear and see a live orchestral performance designed especially for them. The Adopt-A-Player program pairs ESO musicians with elementary schools where they work with the teachers and students to create an original piece of music, which is brought to life in concert at the Winspear Centre. The Young Composers Project gives students an opportunity to work with an established composer, and to have their composition played by the ESO. The Youth Orchestra of Northern Alberta (YONA-Sistema) program uses music as a medium for social change for children in Edmonton’s underserved communities, providing daily instruction, nutrition, and social enrichment free of charge to grade-school students.
The Edmonton Symphony’s artistic mission is to provide the highest quality of live orchestral performances to a broad community spectrum. The immensely popular Symphony Under the Sky festival brings the orchestra outdoors at the end of every summer in scenic Hawrelak Park. The ESO’s first concert outside city limits was a 1956 performance in Fort Saskatchewan. Since then, the orchestra has performed in venues across Alberta, western Canada and the northern territories. In 1959, the ESO became the first symphony orchestra to ever perform in the Northwest Territories. 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. Its incredible acoustics have become the stuff of legend since its inaugural concert in September 1997.
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.