The orchestra, formed by a number of talented musicians who had previously worked in other prominent orchestras, débuted at the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in October 1936, followed by its first tour over Russia a few months later. Throughout its history, the orchestra has collaborated with many of the world's greatest conductors and soloists.
The orchestra has had five renowned music directors: Alexander Gauk (1936-41), Nathan Rakhlin (1941-45), Konstantin Ivanov (1946-65), Evgeni Svetlanov (1965-2000), and Vassily Sinaisky, the orchestra's artistic director and chief conductor since 2000. Such prominent modern musicians as Sviatoslav Richter, Natalia Gutman, Eliso Virsaladze, Vladimir Spivakov, Nikolai Petrov, Viktor Tretiakov, Yuri Bashmet, Evgeni Kissin, Vadim Repin, Sergey Stadler and many others have performed with the Russian State Symphony Orchestra. World famous conductors, Yehudi Menuhin (GB), Andrew Litton (USA), Kurt Masur (Germany), Yuri Temirkanov and Valeri Gergiev (Russia) have appeared at the conductor's stand. Russian music has always been an integral part of the orchestra's repertoire. The works of many great Russian composers, including Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Kabalevsky and Shostakovich, were performed with the orchestra under the batons of their composers. Shostakovich, Khrennikiv, Babajanyan and Shchedrin took part in performing their own concertos as piano soloists.
The orchestra toured to the most prestigious venues of the world, including Musikverein in Vienna, Albert Hall in London, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Madison Square Garden in New York City, Salle Pleyel in Paris, and Kennedy Center in Washington DC. The orchestra embarked on its first foreign tour in 1957 and was the first Soviet symphony orchestra to be heard abroad. Its first tour to the North America in 1960 concluded with a spectacular concert before 16,000 people in the Madison Square Garden, New York. Since then, it has toured all over the globe, most frequently visiting Europe, the USA, China and Japan, but also performing in Latin America, Australia and New Zealand. After the orchestra's tour to Germany in 1990, the Nuremburg Nachrichten wrote ‘This tour showed vividly in what way the Russian interpretation of Tchaikovsky differs from other ones, notably Western: Russians interpret their compatriot with absolute honesty and truthfulness, without any decorations and unnecessary grandeur. Their feeling is rooted in the fullness of their hearts and they convey it without kitsch or distortion'.
The Russian State Symphony Orchestra frequently participates in various music festivals worldwide, including the Edinburgh Festival, the Athens Music Festival, and the Florentine May Festival. Its concerts have, on a number of occasions, been attended by members of royal families, state and government leaders of different countries.