• Jen Huber

Celebrating 90 years of the ISO

Updated: Aug 12

As the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra honors its 90th anniversary in 2020, we will be taking a look back at highlights from the past nine decades and sharing some of the stories that have shaped our institution.

On November 2, 1930, in Caleb Mills Auditorium of Shortridge High School, the public first heard the result of Ferdinand Schaefer’s quest: to create a new Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. As Schaefer stated in a 1930 letter, he longed for “a Symphonic Orchestra worthy of the name, composed of the very best talent available, and which this city may well be proud of.” He got his wish. The first concert contained the complete Mendelssohn Symphony No. 3, “Scottish,” followed by the Prelude to the first act of Lohengrin by Richard Wagner and the first suite from Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg. Writing for the Indianapolis Star, Corbin Patrick said, “The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra . . . made its debut with success that pleasantly surprised even its warmest friends . . . . There was nothing amateurish in its performance, granted that it lacks the polish, the finesse that comes to a group of players only after long association. The concert suggested again the important cultural value of an orchestra of our own.”

Ferdinand Schaefer, 1934

The orchestra continued to play concerts at Caleb Mills Auditorium until the end of its third season. Then, in 1933, the ISO made the move to the Murat Theatre. In 1934, Schaefer also added the first pops concert to the Orchestra’s history. Each ticket to that concert cost 50 cents.

Schaefer continued as the orchestra’s conductor until the 1937–38 season, when Fabien Sevitzky assumed directorship. In 1956 Izler Solomon replaced Sevitzky; during Solomon’s 19-year tenure the orchestra gained heightened international fame. Under John Nelson, who succeeded Solomon in 1976, the ISO's Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall concerts achieved critical acclaim. Internationally renowned conductor, musicologist, and composer Raymond Leppard took up the baton in 1987, combining musicality, scholarship, and creative marketing strategies to advance the ISO’s proud heritage. Following Maestro Leppard's retirement, Mario Venzago was appointed Music Director (2002–09) and led the ISO in a deeper commitment to repertoire of the mid-19th century, the Second Viennese School, contemporary scores, and new commissions. In September 2011, Krzysztof Urbański began his tenure as the seventh Music Director of the ISO, the youngest of any major American orchestra.


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