• Jen Huber

Celebrating the history of the ISO: the 1930s

Updated: Aug 19


The year was 1936. There was a growing feeling that the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra under Ferdinand Schaefer was reaching a plateau in its musical and organizational development. If it was to progress, some consideration needed to be given to engaging a new music director and making the Orchestra “fully professional.” This would include an extended season, musicians hired from outside the Indianapolis area, a full-time administration, and a financial support group. On April 20, 1937, Schaefer concluded his role as the Founding Music Director of the ISO at a concert at the Murat Theatre featuring Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, one of his favorites. In response to the applause and standing ovation from the audience and musicians, he replied, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”


The second music director of the ISO was stepping into the spotlight: Fabien Sevitzky. His goal was to help bring the ISO into the national spotlight with all the esteem of a major orchestra. The 1937 season opened on Friday afternoon, November 19, at 3:30 p.m. at the Murat Theater with Sevitzky at the podium. The 90-minute concert featured Brahms’ Symphony in C Minor and was broadcast over the Mutual Broadcasting System. Printed programs with shiny ads were passed out to the patrons, and miniature scores of most of the compositions played by the orchestra were available at the public library for people to research.


A month later, a series of four monthly Sunday afternoon concerts at 3 p.m. started. Main floor tickets were $2 or $3 and balcony seats were $1.60 or $1, depending on the row. The 1937–38 season contained 10 subscription concerts at the Murat Theater, the additional four Sunday afternoon popular concerts, two Concerts for Young People (balcony tickets cost a quarter and floor seats were fifty cents), four public school concerts, and five concerts at Purdue University and Indiana University.


The final concert of that 1937–38 season featured the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. It also featured pianist Bomar Cramer playing Mozart’s Concerto for Piano in A Major. Cramer, an Indianapolis resident, made his first appearance with the ISO that concert.


To view the slideshow at the top, click the black arrow. Double click to view each photo full-size. Photos taken from the 1937-38 season program books.


References: Akins, Thomas N. Crescendo—Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra: 1930–2005. Indiana Symphony Society, Inc. 2004.

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