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The orchestra was established in 1967 by Leningrad's outstanding conductors Nikolai Rabinovich, Karl Eliasberg, and Edward Grikurov. The well-considered repertoire policy of performing seldom-played opuses of different musical styles and periods, and eager attention to music of living composers also defined the orchestra's name: from the day of its origination and until 1985 it was called "Orchestra of Ancient and Modern Music." The brightest moments for the ensemble of that period are related to the name of excellent Russian conductor Edward Serov who headed the orchestra for over 10 years. It was under his baton that the "Orchestra of Ancient and Modern Music" traveled to hundreds of cities of the Soviet Union and many countries of the world with its concerts, recorded dozens of LPs for the Soviet Melodia label, participated in the most prestigious festivals, and firmly ranked as Leningrad's third after the two famous philharmonic orchestras. Renowned soloists and conductors such as Yuri Temirkanov, Maris Jansons, Svyatoslav Richter, Natalia Gutman, Elena Obraztsova, Grigory Sokolov, and many others performed with the orchestra in those days. 


In 1985, the minor symphony status of the orchestra grew to a full symphony scale. Considering the important role played by the ensemble in Leningrad's artistic life, it was given the rank of Leningrad State Orchestra. From that same year till 2004, talented and well-known Russian musician Ravil Martynov was the orchestra's chief conductor. In 1988, the orchestra started its performances in the Mirror Hall of the famous Princes Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace in the very heart of St. Petersburg, soon regaining the status of one of the city's best concert venues to the hall. Under the leadership of Ravil Martynov, the active touring activity of the post-Soviet orchestra began in the early 1990s. The orchestra successfully toured in China, Japan, Germany, Austria, Mexico, Spain, Finland, Norway, Sweden, France, and Belgium. 
From 2004 till 2007, the orchestra was headed by Martynov's pupil Vasily Petrenko, one of today's most promising young Russian conductors who made his first professional progress in the orchestra.  

The orchestra's artistic director and chief conductor from 2007 till 2013 was Alexander Titov, a renowned St. Petersburg musician. The orchestra's repertoire is really limitless, being a kind of its "visiting card". They perform music of every epoch, genre, and style, with many premiere performances of opuses by today's composers. For efficient creative activity and excellent professionalism, and for promotion of Russian art abroad, the orchestra was given the honorary title of "Academic," which is only awarded in Russia to select musical collectives.

The orchestra has performed in Moscow and other cities of Russia, in the Baltic States, in Finland and Norway, in Korea and Japan, in the United States, and in a dozen countries of Latin America. The ensemble contributes to all important music events and festivals of St. Petersburg. Its subscription symphonic series in Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace have been popular with Petersburgers of all ages for the recent decades. 


In 2008, the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Alexander Titov launched a series of CD recordings of works by outstanding Russian composers created during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. The first releases of the giant "Wartime Music" archive - opuses of G. Popov and N. Myaskovsky, V. Scherbachev and M. Weinberg, D. Shostakovich and S. Prokofiev, A. Mossolov and L. Knipper, Y. Kochurov and L. Polovinkin, O. Yevlakhov and R. Gliere had a noticeable positive impact on the professional music community.    

Vladimir Lande, a prominent musician from the United States, has been Principal Guestconductor of the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra since 2008. Under his baton, the orchestra has accomplished several impressive projects in St. Petersburg, a series of concert tours in the USA, Latin America and South Korea, and CD recordings for the world’s leading labels.

Since autumn 2014 principal guest conductor of the orchestra became famous Belgian maestro Walter Proost.