Aged only 25, Simon Rattle was the man to put the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra on an international footing. But the 60 years of music-making that preceeded his appointment in 1980 were not without success. The ensemble had always enjoyed a reputation for adventurous programming, exciting live performances and dependable studio work. Edward Elgar was among its first conductors. However, most of the early concerts were directed by T. Appleby Matthews, an established conductor in the Birmingham area. He was succeeded in 1924 by Adrian Boult, who took the orchestra to neighbouring towns and cities for the first time and conducted its first broadcasts.
Recording and broadcast technology were in their infancy when the orchestra was founded, but in the following decades studio work became an increasingly important part of the orchestra's schedule. The CBSO ('Symphony' was added to its title in 1948) made many significant recordings in the 1960s and 70s under principal conductors Hugo Rignold (1960-69) and Louis Frémaux (1969-78). Both were also noted for their adventurous programming. The Simon Rattle era (1980-98) elevated the quality and scope of the orchestra's work to a truly international level. There was continuity too. As in previous decades, the orchestra gave many concerts in provincial areas and continued to broadcast and make recordings.
Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo led the orchestra for the decade following Rattle's departure. Both he and Rattle championed the music of Sibelius, which has become something of a CBSO speciality. In 2008, the young Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons took over. Nelsons's lively and dramatic conducting has drawn many enthusiastic responses. Under Nelsons, the orchestra has continued to maintain the excellent musical standards instilled by Rattle and continued by Oramo. Its live performances benefit from the superb acoustics of Birmingham's Symphony Hall, the orchestra's home since 1991. Nelsons's work with the orchestra has been complemented by that of Edward Gardner, music director at English National Opera, who has been appointed the orchestra's principal guest conductor. The orchestra is currently in excellent musical health, and its future prospects look good while it searches for a successor to Nelsons when he leaves for Boston.