The BOS began its activity in 1920 in Bilbao, where the creation of a symphony Orchestra was fostered.
That year, the Belgian musician Mr. Armand Marsick arrived in Bilbao to direct the Conservatory. Hence, the idea which had been brewed by Gortazar, Alaña, Arisqueta and their group was reinforced by Marsick’s technical qualification, and consequently, Bilbao Symphony Orchestra gave their first concert at the Arriaga Theatre in 1922. Thus, Bilbao joined a whole trend in the western world and private economic assets turned into public cultural assets.
At that time, in the 20s and 30s, Bilbao Symphony Orchestra survived thanks to the tenacious and systematic will of a few. In spite of the subsidies granted by the Provincial Council, the City Council, and the Philharmonic Society, the continuous deficits became overwhelming in the 30s, just when the Orchestra, led by the young Jesus Arambarri, headed for its peak and gave concerts with Piatigorsky, Rubinstein, Eisenberg or Zabaleta. On 10th August 1938, a “connoisseur” and past member of the pre-war orchestra was appointed Mayor of Bilbao and the Symphony Orchestra turned municipal. The City Council itself took care of its funding. In February 1939 the Orchestra gave their first post-war concert in Bilbao, conducted by Arambarri and in 1953 Jesus Arambarri went to Madrid leaving Bilbao Orchestra at its best. Five years later, Rafael Frühbeck took charge of the orchestra and his baton conducted the first complete performance of “Carmina Burana” in Spain.After an institutional reconsideration of the Orchestra, the Provincial Council of Bizkaia financed it again and the Orchestra regained the “Symphony” qualification and was reorganized into the new “Juan Crisostomo de Arriaga Board”. In 1972, Bilbao Symphony Orchestra commemorated its 50th anniversary, another milestone. Pedro Pirfano conducted the Orchestra as of 1968. However, the last years of Franco’s regime witnessed the concurrence of a number of terrible declines, starting with the Conservatory of Bizkaia. Finally, the Orchestra was saved, thanks to Luis Olarra’s economic aid, who preferred personal aid for the musicians to institutional aid. Some difficult years went by until the new local councils defined their cultural policy. The professors chose to make their protest against the Bilbao season and attend the concerts in the towns of Bizkaia. But all those professors, led by their deputy director Urbano Ruiz Laorden, wanted to remain an Orchestra. Finally, Banco de Bilbao, with its “Music time” cycles, made it possible to link with the administrative normalization in the year 1982.

Since that year, the BOS found a role within the Basque Country’s cultural project created with the recovery of self-government. The Provincial Council of Bizkaia, Bilbao City Council and, during the first years, the Basque Government, through their participation in the Board which manages the Orchestra, provide the funds necessary for its operation and development. One of the main landmarks in recent years was the construction of Euskalduna Palace, which has become the headquarters of the Orchestra and which has brought about a spectacular improvement, both for the public who attend the concerts as well as for the working conditions of the musicians.

Text based on Juan Mª Betanzos’ opinion article published in “Periodico de Bilbao” on 15th February, 1989.