The Dallas Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1900; the first permanent symphony orchestra in Dallas played its inaugural concert under the direction of Hans Kreissig at Turner Hall on May 22 of that year. The thirty-two-member ensemble played music by Franz Joseph Haydn, Gioacchino Rossini, Richard Wagner, Pietro Mascagni, and Kreissig and continued sporadically with one or two concerts a season for the following ten years.
In 1911 Walter J. Fried reorganized the Kreissig orchestra into the forty-member Beethoven Symphony Orchestra. Two years later Carl Venth moved to Dallas from the Kidd–Key Conservatory in Sherman and placed the Dallas Symphony Orchestra on a professional basis, with Fried as concertmaster. Economic reverses caused the orchestra to founder in its 1914–15 season, but Fried kept the group together and presented a four-concert series annually on a modest scale from 1918 to 1924. Fried died in 1925. Just after his death the orchestra was expanded. Fried was succeeded by Paul van Katwijk, dean of music at Southern Methodist University, who conducted the orchestra until 1937. At that time the orchestra was taken over by Jacques Singer, whose spirited tenure ended in 1942, when he and a third of the orchestra's personnel entered military service.
Under Antal Dorati, who conducted the reconstituted DSO from 1945 to 1949, the orchestra rose to major status. Dorati was succeeded by Walter Hendl, who conducted the growing orchestra until 1958. At that time Paul Kletzki was hired and introduced a sense of Central European solidity to the programs. The Dallas Symphony engaged Georg Solti for the 1961–62 season, and the following year Donald Johanos, a young American conductor, was appointed music director. During his nine-year tenure, the Dallas Symphony received favorable national reviews and a recording contract. During the early-to-mid-1970s such distinguished musical figures as Anshel Brusilow, Max Rudolf, and Louis Lane led the symphony before the arrival of Eduardo Mata in 1977. Mata, a Mexican conductor, was hired as music director and Kurt Masur as principal guest conductor. The orchestra developed a brilliant image and prospered. During Mata’s directorship the orchestra landed contracts with RCA and Dorian, played twice in Carnegie Hall, performed in the Kennedy Center (New York), and presented many concerts abroad (in Europe, Mexico, and Singapore). The Dallas Symphony Chorus, the orchestra’s official vocal ensemble, was founded in 1977. Mata conducted the orchestra longer than any other director.
From the 1930s until 1989 the Dallas Symphony performed in the McFarlin Auditorium at Southern Methodist University and at the Fair Park Music Hall, which became its permanent home in 1973. During Mata’s tenure, the orchestra moved to a new permanent home, the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, referred to as a “world-class” hall. A fund drive for the new auditorium had been launched in 1982, and the Meyerson opened in September 1989.
In late 1992 the Dallas Symphony Association chose a thirty-four-year-old American, Andrew Litton, to succeed Mata the next year. The DSO expanded its activities considerably under Litton, who brought the orchestra to its first television show, the Amazing Music family concert series; the inaugural show aired on A&E in 1995. An illustration of the direction of symphonic organizations at the beginning of the new millennium was Litton’s “Amazing Jazz” show in 1999. By the early 2000s the orchestra was committed to a busy and varied schedule that combined a series of concerts featuring standard Romantic works with an appearance with the orchestra of the “folk” trio Peter, Paul and Mary.
The orchestra has made records with RCA Victor, which produced performances by Dorati, Hendl, and Mata; Turnabout–Candide, which produced the Johanos concerts; Telarc Records and Angel–EMI, which produced recordings of Eduardo Mata; and Delos, for which Litton recorded such composers as Richard Strauss, Shostakovich, and Gershwin.
Andrew Litton left as music director in May 2006, and Jaap van Zweden, born in Amsterdam and a former chief conductor of the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra, became music director designate for the 2007–08 season and officially took over as the symphony's music director in September 2008. He was committed to 2016.
As of the 2010s the Dallas Symphony Orchestra consisted of approximately one hundred musicians. A large staff oversaw the daily administration, marketing, and development for the organization. Additionally, the symphony conducted educational programs for all ages from kindergarten through college and was involved in a number of community outreach programs, such as providing tickets to low-income citizens. Dallas Symphony performed free community concerts both at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center and at other venues such as area parks.
Highlights from recent seasons have included hosting the Moscow Chamber Orchestra and Academy of Russian Choral Music in 2007 and performances with popular guests Julio Iglesias and the Beach Boys in 2008. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 108th season, titled "Unleashed" in 2008–09, the first under music director Jaap van Zweden, and featured some eleven guest conductors. Also, a Pops Series featured favored performers Wayne Newton, Michael McDonald, the music of John Williams, and finalists from the popular television series American Idol. In 2012 Jaap van Zweden was honored as Conductor of the Year by Musical America. He led the Dallas Symphony Orchestra on a prestigious European tour in 2013, including concerts in Amsterdam, Vienna, and Frankfurt. The 2015–16 season included performances of Holst’s The Planets, Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust, and Saint-Saens’s Organ Symphony.