The origins of the Brown University Orchestra date back at least to 1858, the year a “Grand Concert… accompanied by the Orchestra of Brown University” took place in Seekonk, Massachusetts. The modern era of the BUO began in the winter of 1919, when the College Orchestra was established. Renamed the Brown-Pembroke Orchestra in 1940, it became the Brown University Orchestra in 1953. Led by music director Paul Phillips since 1989, the orchestra's membership consists of approximately 100 student musicians from Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design. The BUO has given concerts in Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall (most recently a Carnegie Hall performance in October 2014), toured China and Ireland, and performed with such renowned soloists as Itzhak Perlman, Navah Perlman ‘92, Mstislav Rostropovich, Isaac Stern, Christopher O’Riley, Eugenia Zukerman, Pinchas Zukerman, and Dave Brubeck. In 2006 Daniel Barenboim conducted the BUO during the first of his two residencies with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. The BUO has hosted Samuel Adler, Lukas Foss, Steve Reich, Steven Stucky, Joseph Schwantner, Michael Torke, Peter Boyer, Nico Muhly, and other distinguished composers-in-residence, and won 7 ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music.
Notable BUO performances include four Mahler symphonies and Das Lied von der Erde; Stravinsky’s Firebird, Petrushka, Le Sacre du Printemps, and Symphony in Three Movements; all the Beethoven and Brahms symphonies; The Planets; and a number of compositions with the soloists for whom they were written, including William Bolcom’s Violin Concerto in D with Sergiu Luca, Christopher Rouse’s Flute Concerto with Carol Wincenc, and William Perry’s The Silent Years with pianist Michael Chertock. BUO alumni include current and former members of the New World Symphony, Nashville Symphony, North Carolina Symphony, Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra and Opera, Spoleto Festival Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and YouTube Symphony Orchestra.
In Fall 2014 the BUO recorded two compact discs for Naxos: Manhattan Intermezzo, featuring pianist Jeffrey Biegel playing works for piano and orchestra by Neil Sedaka, Keith Emerson, Duke Ellington, and George Gershwin, and Anthony Burgess: Orchestral Music, the first commercial recording of orchestral works by the British composer-novelist. Released in January 2016, Manhattan Intermezzo has received rave reviews in the US and European press, and in March 2016 topped the classical charts as the #1 best-selling Naxos recording worldwide. The Burgess recording was released in May 2016 and has been favorably received by the BBC and other international media.
Paul Phillips with the Brown University Orchestra at the Oriental Arts Center in Shanghai, 26 December 2006