Whether or not you knew Isaiah Sheffer, you probably owe him a debt of gratitude. Sheffer, who died at 76 on Friday from complications due to a stroke, was one of the founders of Symphony Space on 95th Street, and its artistic director. He started the Selected Shorts program that played on NPR and the famous annual “Bloomsday on Broadway” reading of Joyce’s Ulysses.
Symphony Space was a rundown theater with a movie theater in the basement when Sheffer and Allan Miller decided to hold a 12-hour Bach concert there in 1978, the Times recounts in an obituary of Sheffer. “The building had started life as a public market, and at various times it was an ice skating rink, boxing arena and movie theatre,” Symphony Space notes.
After the concert, the pair (who lived in the same Upper West Side building) resolved to create a performing arts space that could be home to eclectic programs like that marathon Bach program. It took a grassroots movement, including taking donations on the street, to get the space started, and decades of legal battles to gain full control. Now it’s one of the crown jewels of the neighborhood.
If you knew Sheffer, or enjoyed his work, post a reminiscence in the comments or on the Symphony Space website. There are already numerous sweet anecdotes and sentiments recorded there: “You made me laugh continually (often when things were at their most unfunny), you made me nuts occasionally, but never til now did you make me cry,” says one.
If someone would like to write a column about him and his impact on their lives, let us know.
Image via Symphony Space.