SLSO Untold: In 1955, SLSO Gave Concert Tour to Industrial Plants

By Eric Dundon


In just a few short years, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra will celebrate the 150th anniversary of its founding in 1880. While that milestone is still a few years away, a recent discovery shed light on another of the SLSO’s many milestones.


For its diamond anniversary in 1955—that’s 75 years—the SLSO toured the St. Louis community, giving free performances in unlikely settings: industrial plants.


In this photo from the April 1955 Airscoop newspaper published by the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, Dotty DeSett, a McDonnell typist, presents SLSO Music Director Vladimir Golschmann with a model of the F-101 Voodoo jet following a free performance at the McDonnell cafeteria.

On March 22, 1955, the final of five performances took place at the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation cafeteria near what was then known as Lambert-St. Louis Municipal Airport. An article from the April 1955 edition of McDonnell Airscoop, a staff newspaper for the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, detailed the unusual visit.


Vladimir Golschmann, the SLSO’s longest-serving Music Director, led a free concert for employees, with works including Carmen Suites No. 1 and 2 by Georges Bizet, Morton Gould’s Pavane, Luigi Boccherini’s Minuet, and excerpts from Lohengrin and Tannhäuser, operas by Richard Wagner.


According to the article, the concert was the final of the five-concert tour. Employees enjoyed the concert from the cafeteria, as well as in their offices through a public address system.


“The visit is believed to be the first ever made by a symphonic group of this caliber to an aircraft plant and the audience was the largest of this type to hear the St. Louis Symphony,” the article continues.


The company expressed its appreciation for the concert by presenting Golshmann with a model of an F-101 Voodoo fighter jet, one of the newest models of supersonic aircraft at the time. McDonnell Aircraft Corporation became McDonnell Douglas in 1967, headquartered in St. Ann, until it merged with The Boeing Company in the 1997.


The SLSO has a long history of sharing free performances in the St. Louis community, from concerts for schoolchildren beginning in the 1920s through today, when SLSO musicians gave more than 50 free SLSO On the Go performances at parks, healthcare facilities, and in neighborhoods when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the pause of concerts in Powell Hall.


The annual concert in Forest Park is the largest free community concert the SLSO performs each year, entertaining thousands of people on Art Hill since 1968.


Eric Dundon is the Public Relations Manager for the SLSO.