In 1935, during National Music Week, a group of women from the Helen G. Steele Music Club met to discuss the possibility of forming a symphony in Sedalia. They approached musician Abe Rosenthal and asked if he would be willing to serve as conductor.
“When I first came to town, I wanted it to happen, but I didn’t think it could. A symphony orchestra in a town of only 20,000 hit so hard by the Depression? Impossible, I thought – at first that is.”
The group gave its first concert in June 1935 and the first season began in November 1935 with a concert held at Smith Cotton High School Auditorium. The audience, many outfitted in tuxedos and formal gowns, applauded the performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony in B Minor, a difficult work performed splendidly.
By the time of the second performance in February 1936, the orchestra had “rapidly matured”, according to the Sedalia Democrat.
Abe Rosenthal retired as conductor in April 1980, at the age of 81, having served 45 years with the Sedalia Symphony. Rosenthal had the distinction of having the longest tenure as conductor of any orchestra leader in the United States, except Arthur Fielder of the Boston Pops Orchestra.
The Symphony has always tried to make its programs affordable to most Sedalians. During the first years, season tickets cost $1.50 and individual performance tickets cost fifty cents. By 1963, the price of a season ticket had risen to $3.50. Currently the price of a season ticket is $40, a price which includes three concerts, the first being a performance by an internationally known artist or group with wide popular appeal.
Local newspapers have, over the years, frequently praised the fact that Sedalia was able to sustain a symphony orchestra. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, fewer than 5% of American urban areas have symphonies.
The presence of the symphony makes Sedalia one of a special few cities; that Sedalia is so small makes the continued presence of the symphony even more noteworthy. The Sedalia Symphony is the second oldest continuous symphony in the state, the first being the St. Louis Symphony.
– excerpted from A Brief History of the Sedalia Symphony by Rhonda Chalfant, April 24, 2000
– photos courtesy of Becky Imhauser. Text and photos copyrighted.
The Sedalia Symphony Orchestra is always looking for photographs, postcards, performance programs, posters and other memorabilia to post here on the History Section of our website, our FaceBook page and other related media and printed materials. If you come across such historical materials, the Sedalia Symphony Orchestra would LOVE to hear from you!