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ISO names new music director

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It’s happened sooner than we expected. After expressing the hope (in a recent ISO review), but not the expectation, that the ISO would pick a new music director before the 2010-11 season ended, I now learn that it is a fait accompli. The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra announced today (Tuesday, Oct. 19 at 1 p.m., in a ceremony outside the Hilbert Circle Theatre) that conductor Krzysztof Urbanski will become its next music director, effective Sept. 1, 2011. His initial contract is four years, and he immediately becomes the Music Director Designate. Urbanski is the seventh music director in the ISO’s 80-year history and, at age 28, the youngest among major orchestras in the United States. He made his U.S. debut in a classical-concert pair last April with our orchestra — whereas a number of other potential music-director candidates have appeared two or more times each in the classical series.

Born in Poland, Urbanski has successfully toured with orchestras throughout Europe and in Japan during the last few years. He was named chief conductor of Norway’s Trondheim Symphony Orchestra after only one appearance with that orchestra in Sept., 2009. After making a most positive impression on the ISO players, he did return here to lead the orchestra at the opening of its Symphony on the Prairie series last summer. So that from two appearances here the conductor search committee (listed below) made their choice. ISO director of communications Jessica di Santo said: “The search committee unanimously voted to appoint Mr. Urbanski to the post, and the ISO musicians overwhelmingly supported the recommendation.”

Krzysztof Urbanski
  • Krzysztof Urbanski


As with all previous music directors, Urbanski will be responsible for leading the artistic vision of the ISO and presiding over auditions for vacancies within the orchestra. He has also committed himself to strengthening the organization’s profile locally, nationally and internationally, as well as providing insight and service to the organization’s educational and community initiatives. Urbanski will return for concerts on May 20 and 21, 2011, replacing Pietari Inkinen, originally scheduled for that weekend. In the 2011-2012 season, Urbanski will conduct six weekends of the classical series, including the ISO’s Opening Night Gala in September. In subsequent seasons, he will conduct a minimum of 10 programs.

Following his U.S. debut with the ISO, Urbanski made a celebrated debut with Chicago’s Grant Park Orchestra and the Houston Symphony Orchestra. He continues an extensive schedule of guest conducting engagements this season with orchestras throughout Europe and in Japan. As a graduate of the Chopin Music Academy in Warsaw in 2007, Urbanski has made such a rapid rise in symphonic-world prominence as to be described as no less than startling.

The search for a new music director began in September 2009 following Mario Venzago’s dismissal from a seven-year tenure after having many temperament/communication difficulties with ISO management. Chief among these was Venzago’s failure to immerse himself into community activities — to be the most visible spokesperson for the orchestra locally, and thus to attract more individual and corporate donations to support the ISO’s $26 million annual budget, especially in this recession period. He and his family continued to live in Heidelberg, Germany, where his wife is principal violist in their local symphony.

What compounded the issue was Venzago’s personal magnetism, his uniquely interpretive conducting style and his close attachments to many symphony insiders — some of whom have remained upset over his forced departure. Which in turn was compounded by the visible circumstances of his dismissal on July 30, 2009, just before last season began. Has the orchestra learned from what happened last year, such that this kind of imbroglio will not occur again? I’ve mentioned that Urbanski plans to be a part of this community, something I’m sure was part of the terms of his employment here. In addition, di Santo said, “Our new maestro and his wife Joanna plan to make a home here.”

That seems to me an excellent start.

Music Director Search Committee
Simon Crookall, President and CEO
Zach De Pue, Concertmaster
Rick Graef, Assistant Principal Horn
Bob Kaspar, Immediate Past Board Chairman
Ju-Fang Liu, Principal Contrabass
Martin Sher, Vice President of Artistic Planning
John Thornburgh, Board Chairman
Marianne Williams Tobias, board member

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