(Sept. 30, 1893-Feb. 3, 1967). Born in Russia, Fabien Sevitzky was the nephew of famous orchestral conductor Serge Koussevitzky of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He took up the double bass when no scholarship was available in piano or violin at the Conservatory of Music in St. Petersburg. He mastered the instrument in two weeks and won the scholarship for the double bass, graduating with honors in 1911.

Sevitzky arrived in the United States in 1923 when he was 29. He worked for the Philadelphia Orchestra and later formed a string orchestra that embraced his policy of including at least one American composition in concerts. Later, he was musical director and conductor of the People’s Symphony Orchestra of Boston.

Sevitzky first visited Indianapolis as a guest conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (ISO) in 1936. He returned in 1937 to take over for retiring ISO founder Ferdinand Schaefer. That same year, he also established the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, which he conducted until 1955. Sevitzky immediately reorganized the orchestra and significantly increased the concert schedule, leading ISO to grow in national prominence.

Fabien Sevitzky (right) at an orchestra rehearsal, 1946
Credit: Indiana Historical Society

A 33rddegree Mason, Sevitzky organized the Indianapolis Scottish Rite Symphony Orchestra in 1946. The Scottish Rite Cathedral is the only Scottish Rite meeting hall in the nation with an orchestra in residence.

A colorful figure, Sevitzky was a friend to bandleader Fred Waring, and he encouraged Hoosier songwriter Hoagy Carmichael to write for the symphony. However, temperamental outbursts and arguments with symphony officials left critics calling him unmanageable and tempestuous. Dismissed from the ISO in 1955, he took a job in Miami. He died of a heart attack in Athens, Greece, while on tour.

Revised February 2021

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