Orchestre symphonique de Montréal / Montreal Symphony Orchestra
The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal was founded in 1934 as the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (Concerts symphoniques de Montréal), changing its name in 1979 to l'Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. The fourth orchestra established in Montréal, its first concert took place on 14 January 1935 in Plateau Hall under the direction of Canadian conductor Rosario Bourdon. Montréal-born Wilfrid Pelletier was its first artistic director, from 1935 to 1940, followed by Belgian conductor Désiré Defauw, from 1941 to 1953.
A series of distinguished guest conductors led the orchestra until the appointment of Igor Markevitch, 1957-61. Under his direction, the orchestra achieved full professional status. He also instituted the annual commissioning of a Canadian composition.
Under Zubin Mehta, 1961-67, the orchestra embarked in 1962 on the first European tour ever undertaken by a Canadian symphony orchestra. In 1963 it moved to new quarters in Place des Arts. The orchestra made its first tour of Japan in 1970, to which it has since returned 5 times, under the direction of Franz-Paul Decker (1967-75.) In 1976 it made its US debut in Carnegie Hall under Rafael Frübeck de Burgos, who succeeded Decker. Since 1982, it has returned annually to perform in Carnegie Hall, save for 2003 when it was not invited, ostensibly because it had no music director.
Charles Dutoit took over as artistic director of the OSM in 1977. The musical partnership of Dutoit and the OSM is recognized today as having been one of the most successful in the world. Under an exclusive contract with London/Decca from 1980 to 2002, Dutoit and the OSM produced over 75 recordings, winning over 40 national and international awards and distinctions, including the Grand Prix du Président de la République (France), the Prix mondial du Disque de Montreux, the High Fidelity International Record Critics' Award, the Amsterdam Edison Award, the Japan Record Academy Award, the German Music Critics' Award, and numerous Juno and ADSIQ (Félix) awards. In 1996 the OSM and Dutoit received their first Grammy Award (Best Opera Recording) for Berlioz's Les Troyens. In February 2000, Martha Argerich and the OSM won a Grammy for Instrumental Soloist with Orchestra for their recording of the Prokofiev Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 3 and the Bartók Piano Concerto No. 3. Also in 2000, the OSM won a Juno for their recording of Respighi's "La Boutique Fantasque."
The late 1990s, however, proved a difficult time for the orchestra. It was faced with falling subscriptions, a deficit, a sharp drop in recordings, and finally, in 1998, a musicians' strike. Though it lasted only three weeks, the tensions that had flared up did not dissipate completely. In 2002, with Dutoit commencing dismissal proceedings against two musicians in the orchestra, the head of the Québec musicians' guild wrote an open letter criticizing Dutoit's leadership. This led, shortly thereafter, to the conductor's resignation amid a furor of accusations from both sides.
The orchestra continued without a music director for two years, supported by principal guest conductor Jacques Lacombe, until Kent Nagano was named to the post in 2004, effective 2006. While things seemed to be getting better for the OSM - Nagano's first concert after the appointment garnered a Prix Opus - labour difficulties resurfaced and a second musicians' strike was called in May 2005. The strike was resolved in October 2005 but only after an acrimonious and fiercely partisan battle between musicians and management in which, it was widely thought, the administration prevailed.
The OSM has undertaken numerous visits to the United States, 8 major tours of Europe, 4 tours of the Far East and tours of South America in 1991 and 1998. The OSM is the first Canadian orchestra to have performed at the Hollywood Bowl, and at the festivals of Ravinia, Tanglewood and New York. In 2006 it performed outside of Canada for the first time in six years, giving a concert in Paris under Nagano. In addition to its regular subscription series, the OSM has presented an annual summer festival since 1980.