Mission & History
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The mission of the Canton Symphony Orchestra is to perform and present orchestral music at the highest possible artistic level to enrich, entertain, educate, and challenge diverse audiences in a variety of settings. In doing so, we will serve our community, manage our resources responsibly, and be accountable to our donors, audiences, employees and volunteers.

In carrying out the Association’s mission to perform and present live orchestral music at the highest possible artistic level, the orchestra will perform both standard and contemporary repertoire,  with a continued focus on presenting artists of diverse backgrounds. It will continue to commission new music, showcase established guest soloists and new young talent. It will provide service to American orchestras by offering its musicians experience in performing a wide range of repertoire, under the direction of conductors of high quality.

Formed in 1937, the CSO gave its first concert on February 16, 1938 under the direction of Richard Oppenheim. Louis Lane, Assistant Conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, became its second Music Director in 1949. His tenure initiated a period of several decades while George Szell was Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra, when the Cleveland Orchestra’s Assistant Conductor would systematically be appointed Music Director of the Canton Symphony. After George Szell’s death in 1971, Robert Marcellus was appointed Music Director, to be followed by Thomas Michalak, Exxon Arts Endowment Conductor with the Pittsburgh Symphony, in 1976.  Gerhardt Zimmermann, then Associate Conductor of the Saint Louis Symphony, succeeded Michalak in 1980.

The Canton Youth Symphony was founded in 1961, followed by the formation of The Symphony League of Canton in 1963 and the Canton Symphony Chorus in 1983. Now in its 83rd Season, the Canton Symphony is a fully professional ensemble, and all of its members are members of the American Federation of Musicians. Their wages and working conditions are governed by a contract negotiated with Local 111 of the American Federation of Musicians. 

In fulfillment of its mission, the Orchestra has provided educational programs to the Greater Stark County region since 1971. Supported by a larger education staff than any other Stark County arts organization, all programs are aligned with national and state curriculum standards, including the in English, language arts, math, science, social studies, visual arts and music.