- The 28 year old Urbański is the youngest conductor among major orchestras in the United States.
When Raymond Leppard assumed the reins as the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s music director in 1987, he was 59 years old. When Mario Venzago took over, in turn, in 2002, he was 53. We now have, in succession, at 28, the youngest music director among major orchestras in the United States. Krzysztof Urbański conducts this weekend for the first time since his initial guest appearance last season on April 16-17, 2010. I wondered how someone at this young age views having charge of a major American orchestra:
NUVO: For being a rather young conductor, do you already find yourself at home with most works in what we think of as the standard classical repertoire?
Urbański: I don’t think that age has anything to do with understanding, feeling the music. It is only a matter of having a sensitivity as an approach to art.
NUVO: I notice that you've programmed a number of Polish works for the 2011-12 season. Could you expand on that? And aside from Poland, your native land, do you have other national preferences from which you draw repertoire?
Urbański: I don’t have any national preferences regarding repertoire. I just think that some pieces written by Polish composers are very valuable but not known in the U.S., so I wanted to share them with the Indianapolis audiences.
NUVO: I understand you memorize scores for both rehearsals and performance. How does that affect the way you prepare for performances and why do you choose to memorize?
Urbański: I choose to memorize scores because I’ve found that it speeds up rehearsing. I don’t have to check the score because I have it in my head.
NUVO: What is your musical background; how did you get into conducting?
Urbański: There aren’t any musicians in my family, and I started my musical education quite accidentally when I was 12. At the age of 15, I wrote my first composition for orchestra. I asked my colleagues from the music school in Pabianice to perform the piece during a concert I organized. It appeared that there was no conductor or someone to beat a tempo and show where to start. So I accepted the challenge. The piece was ... pretty bad, but I found conducting to be great fun.
NUVO: Besides yourself, there are a number of young music directors of major orchestras in America these days. What are your thoughts on what such a music director's role should be?
Urbański: I think that every music director has to broaden an orchestra’s horizons, improve its quality of performances, create possibilities for the audience to discover the magical world of classical music and infect people with enthusiasm and love for this music.
NUVO: Tell me about how you program a season. For example, would you go beyond those concert programs you are scheduled to conduct, and consult with guest conductors as to what they should or would like to program for each of their appearances? Have you thought as yet about the 2012-2013 season?
Urbański: I program the concerts I conduct but with [ISO artistic vice president] Martin Sher’s help. We always aim for a whole season’s programming which is diverse and interesting. We have already planned the 2012-2013 season. I am sure it will be a very exciting year for the orchestra and me — and hopefully as well for the audiences.
NUVO: The ISO currently has a number of vacant or vacating player positions to fill, such as principal cello, principal trumpet, principal oboe and assistant-principal viola. What will be your approach and involvement in filling these positions?
Urbański: Principal positions in any orchestra are very important issues. I’ll be attending all final auditions for these positions. This May we are starting with the viola and cello positions and will subsequently fill the remaining vacant ones.
NUVO: Do you plan on making a home here in Indianapolis, and if so, do you expect you and your wife to be involved to some extent in promoting our orchestra locally? What can you see yourself doing to help raise the attendance level in the ISO classical series and the Symphonic Hits concerts?
Urbański: Yes, we will establish our residence in Indianapolis next year. The ISO has a fantastic board and staff, and I will support their efforts. We should make sure that people know that art is not for the “chosen ones.” Classical music is accessible to everyone. Music is so heterogeneous, and I am absolutely certain that everyone can find composers and pieces they will like. And they are worth seeking because music can release incredible emotions, making our everyday lives disappear and moving us to different worlds.