The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, one of the nation’s most versatile professional orchestras, performs nearly 200 concerts each year serving patrons of all ages through classical masterworks, Broadway hits, Hollywood films, family-centered programs, and more. Its first concert took place November 2, 1930, at Shortridge High School under the baton of Ferdinand Schaefer, the orchestra’s conductor until the 1937–1938 season, when Fabien Sevitzky assumed directorship.

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Radio Broadcast Mailer, January 1938 Credit: Indiana Historical Society View Source

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s broadcasting history extends from the mid-1930s when Admiral Richard Byrd’s Antarctic expedition team received a special broadcast directed by Ferdinand Schaefer. Under Fabian Sevitzky in 1937, the ISO initiated a series of regular national broadcasts. By 1940, the orchestra had over 80 broadcasts. The ISO debuted in the recording studio the following year. Between 1941 and 1953, the ISO could be heard on 20 recordings bearing the RCA Victor and Capitol labels.

In 1956, Izler Solomon replaced Sevitzky. During Solomon’s 19-year tenure the orchestra gained heightened international fame. In 1963, the ISO moved from the Murat Theatre, where it had presented concerts since its fourth season, to Clowes Memorial Hall on the Butler University campus.

Fabien Sevitzky conducts the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra at its annual spring concert at Crispus Attucks High School on March 22, 1966 Credit: Indiana Historical Society View Source

Under John Nelson, who succeeded Solomon in 1976, the ISO’s Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall concerts achieved critical acclaim. The orchestra made the renovated downtown Hilbert Circle Theatre its home in 1984.

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 (2002–2009) and led the ISO in a deeper commitment to the 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.

The Light in the Wilderness program, 1969 Credit: Chuck Shaver View Source

The orchestra provides an extensive selection of musical programs. At Hilbert Circle Theatre, the ISO performs an 18-week Classical Series, an 8-week Pops Series, a 3-week Film Series, and a Happy Hour at the Symphony series, plus Coffee Classical, Coffee Pops concerts, and special performances. Seasonal offerings include the month-long Yuletide Celebration, the summer Lunch Break Series, and the summer-long Symphony on the Prairie outdoor concerts at Conner Prairie. The ISO also provides free concerts for communities in Central Indiana.

The ISO has numerous programs for students and educators. The Metropolitan Youth Orchestra (MYO) was founded in 1996 by Artistic Director Betty Perry and became a program of the ISO in 2008. MYO serves more than 200 students and their families each year—developing musical and life skills. A parent/guardian learns a stringed instrument alongside their student for the first several years. The Learning Community delivers a spectrum of programs serving the community, reaching 80,000-plus people per year. The Teddy Bear Series introduces preschool and kindergarten students to the orchestra through the story, movement, and live music, and has produced two picture books. The Discovery Concerts are designed so children in grades 3–6 have the chance to hear a live orchestra.

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra performs at Hilbert Circle Theatre, ca. 1995-2001 Credit: Indiana Historical Society View Source

More than 1,000 talented students have shared the Hilbert Circle Theatre stage with their professional counterparts since Side-by-Side began in 1991. Students are auditioned and coached by members of the ISO. The result is a concert featuring the 100-plus piece orchestra of students and professionals.

Likewise, the Michael Ben & Illene Komisarow Maurer Young Musicians Contest encourages accomplished young Indiana musicians (through grade 12) by providing an opportunity to perform in a competitive setting. The winner of the Young Musicians Contest performs their prizewinning concerto with the ISO during the Side-by-Side concert.

Classical Jam allows adults the chance to play with the ISO on stage. A conductor leads a rehearsal with guests and ISO members playing side by side before a performance. Adults can also attend First Mondays, a series of events designed to get the audience up close with the ISO through guest speakers and various topics. Before each Classical concert, patrons can attend Words on Music, which provides behind-the-curtain perspective from musicians, conductors, guest artists, and community hosts.

The ISO is supported by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Foundation. More than 1,000 volunteers work on behalf of the ISO, donating more than 32,000 hours annually. The ISO Association also provides support for music education for adults and students. Additional support for the ISO comes from members of the Lynn Society, launched by Dorothy And Charles Lynn, who believed that the ISO enriches the area’s quality of life. Anyone who creates a planned gift for the ISO becomes a member. In November 2023, ISO received $2.75 million from the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation. The gift was one of four of this size that the Foundation distributed in the form of grants to major Indianapolis arts organizations before it ceased operation at the end of 2023.

Revised February 2021

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