ISO chooses young maestro Urbanski as director

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The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra announced Tuesday that it has chosen 28-year-old Krzysztof Urbanski as its new music director.

A native of Poland, Urbanski is an up-and-comer in Europe and Japan. He was named chief conductor of the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra in Norway in September 2009 after one appearance. He made his U.S. debut with the ISO on April 16 and was invited to return for the opening of the summer series, "Symphony on the Prairie."

Krystof conductor 15 columnKrzysztof Urbanski was named Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's new music director. (Photo courtesy DG Photography, Ole-Einar Andersen Adresseavisen)

“We saw 18 different conductors last season, and he jumped out of the pile,” symphony CEO Simon Crookall said.

Urbanski’s appointment is effective Sept. 1, 2011, for a four-year term. He will be the seventh music director in the orchestra's 80-year-history.

The music director search kicked off in 2009 after Crookall made the controversial decision—weeks before the September opening of the 2009-10 season—not to renew maestro Mario Venzago's contract. Venzago spent seven years as ISO's music director.

Though some classical music fans, as well as orchestra musicians, were upset over Venzago's sudden departure, Crookall said the change was necessary to bolster the symphony's relationship with the community. This July, the symphony announced the start of a $100 million fund-raising campaign.

“It gives us something to rally the community around,” Crookall said of Urbanski’s appointment. “It’s an important symbol of the future of the orchestra.”

The ISO is the largest performing arts organization in Indiana and one of only 17 year-round orchestras in the nation.

Urbanski appeared at a press conference Tuesday afternoon and thanked the musicians and Indianapolis.

“I’m very impressed by the warmth of its people," he said. "To be the music director of an American symphony orchestra is actually the fulfillment of my dreams, and I’m very excited about what the future holds. I can’t wait to share my love of music with this great community.”

Crookall declined to say how much the ISO would pay its new conductor. Venzago earned $388,695 in 2008.

Urbanski, now "music director designate," will return for concerts on May 20 and 21. He will conduct for six weeks in the 2011-2012 season and a minimum of 10 weeks the following season. The first three years of his appointment will run concurrent with his post in Trondheim. Despite the double duty, Crookall said he expects Urbanski will spend more time here than his predecessor.

The ISO said that in addition to guiding ISO's artistic vision, Urbanski will be responsible for "strengthening the organization’s profile at home and abroad." He will also provide "insight and service" on educational and community initiatives and preside over auditions for vacant orchestra seats.

"The musicians are excited to embark on the next chapter of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra with Maestro Urbanski,” said Rick Graef, assistant principal horn and member of the search committee, in a prepared statement. “He has shown the energy, artistic vision and passion to take us to new musical heights. His skills, when combined with the talent, creativity and musicality of our ISO musicians, will create exciting experiences for our audiences.”

Urbanski graduated from the Chopin Music Academy in Warsaw, Poland, in 2007, and was unanimous first-prize winner of the Prague Spring International Conducting Competition later that year.

“The ISO has served as a cornerstone of the city’s cultural community for 80 years,” said John Thornburgh, chairman of the ISO board of directors, in a prepared statement. “With Krzysztof’s leadership, we anticipate the continued transformation of the organization as one that will present innovative concerts to reach more diverse audiences, bring collaborative music education programs into our schools and neighborhoods, and be fiscally secure and valued by the central Indiana area and beyond.”

Crookall said that in addition to serving as music director of the ISO, Urbanski will be an adjunct professor at the Indiana University School of Music.


  • Interesting
    Intersting one of the reasons Venzago was sacked was because of his lack of time and involvment in the city. Now they have hired a music dorector who will only be here 6 weeks next season and 10 the following! Venzago was here more than that time. Why would a busy european director want to spend more time here in Indianapolis? Does not make sense. Venzago has incredible talent and also was daring enough to try new things to attract new people to the symphony. I did not like most of them but I am more traditional. I am look at the ages of those in attendance at most concerts and fear that in 10 years there won't be many concert goers left! Hope Urbanski will work out - maybe he will surprise us and be the next Dudamel.
  • getting on the bandwagon
    This bold move will motivate me to pay more attention to the ISO schedule for a new look and new sounds. I have attended sporadically but maybe I'll catch this wave and rearrange my arts-to-do list. Exciting!
  • ISO
    1) Simon Crookall didn't fire Venzago by himself. The board approved and decided. If they didn't like Crookall's leadership, they could have fired him. I personally think Crookall is an excellent leader for the ISO.
    2) I'm happy Venzago is gone. Good riddance to all the nonsense at the podium and the distraction from the music. And he was NOT a presence in Indianapolis.
    3) When I go to the symphony, I invite friends, go to dinner, and often spend time downtown after the concert. My dollars support more than the symphony.
    4) If we want top-tier musicians then we need top-tier fundraising. Quality costs money and too often our community forgets that.
  • Ooops!
    Um - Sportfans, being a Music Director / Conductor is NOT like building Chevies! One must have talent; the Gift, as it were - and not everyone has that Gift. So a 10% unemployment rate is irrelevant to the search - the candidates - and definitely the final selection!
  • Atlas Shrugged
    I thought Venzago was a wonderful artist and conductor, but Indianapolis needed a music director in more than title. His departure is part of history but the contract offered was for the work he would do, not the position he held in name. I know many that feel the same. I know that if not for a recent illness, Ricardo Muti was planning to be more involved as music director this fall in Chicago than was usually the case here before. Mr. Crookall has a tough job but the board supported his decision--it was not him on a whim. I am not an ISO board member.
  • No apology necessary
    Major orchestra positions are internationally competitive. US conductors get jobs in Europe and elsewhere either as guest or principal conductors. Our own ISO principal guest concertmaster was for a long period the concertmaster of the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, one of the most prestigious European orchestras.
  • Come on. What??
    What is this thing about not hiring Americans? Ten percent unemployment. Boycott ISO.
    • Good!
      Several friends and I heard tow of the April and the Symphony on the Prairie concerts Urbanski conducted this past season and were very enthusiastic. In fact we recommended that he be seriously considered for our next conductor
    • 100 Million
      Surely they aren't serious about trying to raise that kind of money in this enviroment. But if I read what Mr. Crookall said then they fired Mario just to have someone here so they could raise money (or so he thinks). I always thought they'd be more concerned about producing a superior product and figure that donor dollars would follow. But instead we fire a man that actually produced a superior product. I'm confused.
    • New Beginning
      I was a huge fan of Maestro Venzago and would love to still see his infectious smile and palpable energy, but he is gone. Like any time we lose someone we care about, whether through death or relocation, it is hard to forget. We all loved Mario. Now we need to move forward and support Mr. Crookall's decision for Maestro Urbanski and give them both a chance to be accepted and loved as well. I am sure we'll see great things for the ISO and for the musical community and audiences in the years to come.
    • No more excuses
      Sounds like an interesting selection. In concert with the comment from AtlasShrugged, I guess this will mean Mr. Crookall will no longer have any excuses about delaying his fund raising success...there is $100 million to raise and he seems to have spent more time on others' business than his own. Best wishes, BF
    • Bravo
      Marvelous. An excellent choice. Urbanski at the ISO. Feinstein at the Palladium. But lest we forget, Maestro Venzago was unceremoniously dumped by Crookall for spending too much time in Heidelberg where he also had conducting responsibilities. Urbanski will serve Indianapolis and Norway's Trondheim concurrently for 3 years. I don't mind. I like an international conductor to have a foot in Europe and one in the States. But Crookall made much of it when he spoke of Venzago, who was "fired" when Crookall complained about his time in Europe, publicly questioned his comittment to Indianapolis, and insultingly offered to lower his salary, resulting in his resignation. I am one who was offended at the way Crookall handled that transition. And I'm only happy to remind him that he replaced a brilliant Maestro with another brilliant Maestro yet remains a tepid, mediocre administrator who should stay off the stage. Brilliant Maestos don't grow on trees. Lets see if Crookall can hold onto one. In any event, Maestro Venzago will graciously conduct in Indianapolis several times between now and the time Urbanski steps up, and he is now principal conductor in Basel, Switzerland.

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