Venzago out as ISO maestro

July 30, 2009
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Mario Venzago is out as Music Director for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. A search begins immediately for a replacement.

According to a memo sent minutes ago by Simon Crookall, ISO CEO and President, to his staff: "For a number of reasons I have decided not to renew Mario Venzago’s contract as Music Director of the ISO.  The Board of Directors fully supports my decision."

"We have been engaged in discussions to extend his contract for nearly a year, and it became clear that we were not going to reach a satisfactory conclusion. Mario will not be appearing during the 2009/10 season and his concerts will be conducted by other conductors."

"I have, however, invited him to return to Indianapolis for a farewell week in which we can celebrate his artistic achievements and say goodbye."

Venzago joined the ISO in 2002.

Already, at least one arts leader in the city who worked closely with the ISO expressed shock at the news.

Venzago's ISO conducting schedule for 2009/2010 was to include the season opener with F. Murray Abraham, a Mendelssohn weekend in October, a Joshua Bell appearance in November, and more.

Your thoughts.
  • This was a foolish, foolish decision. Venzago brought this orchestra up to an amazing level from where they were seven years ago. The audience love him, critics speak well of him, and it's clear simply by attending a concert, that he has the musicians respect, and they respond well to him. Crookall and the board know this, yet decided to let him go anyway--and only 2 month before the season starts!

    Foolishness is what this is---pure foolishness.
  • There's a story here, likely a big, fat, juicy one, and I have a feeling it will come out in the coming weeks and months. Count me among Maestro Venzago's fans. Maestro Leppard may have been competent and gracious, but he was dry as dust. Venzago breathed some life, energy, and variety into the ISO. I'm no expert, just a casual fan, so feel free to dispute me on that point. Nonetheless, he will be missed.
  • Me thinks the CEO has no class. The reports about the type of negotiation sound like it was my way or the highway -- not the way a true artist who has enlivened the music of the city deserves to be treated. The CEO's ego seems to have also played a role. So sad that this personality conflict became so public -- it seems the board's support may speak to a need to think about mission a bit. A board is supposed to represent the community and I wonder if they really do or if they represent a group of elites who think they know better than the rest...?
  • Simon is ruining the orchestra. It's just misstep after another. Lay-offs without the top saff taking pay-cuts. Losing such a talented and well known Maestro. Mismanagement of funds and schedules. I understand that the ISO is a business, but the music should come first.
  • What an awful mistake by the ISO! Shame on you!
  • I'd like to know how much Crookall is making and the size of his pay cuts this year and next. Yeah, right.
  • Hmm, I'm apparently a minority in my thoughts -

    At least one of the issues has to do with the difference between an American arts organization (funded by donations and ticket sales) and a European arts organization (funded by ticket sales and tax money). In America, the conductor needs to do the glad-handing as well as the conducting.....the organization needs to develop fundraising, and having the conductor visible is part of that. It's also something Maestro Leppard was fantastic at doing. However, he also adopted Indianapolis as a hometown and became a part of the community. Maestro Venzago remains in Germany, coming to Indy ONLY when he's conducting, and doesn't do the additional duties as assigned that are off-the-podium duties. But, they're part of the job....and he also was known to make snide, rude comments about Indianapolis being a backwater (basically). It's hard to pay someone $400K for them to bad-mouth the city.

    It's a shame an agreement couldn't have been reached, but in a time where many arts organizations are closing, the ISO only had a small loss this year, and their endowment, while down about 30% is still large. Management seems to know how to run a business, which is a HUGE part of the organization. Try doing it all on artistry, and you'll see problems! Maybe we can find a conductor who's willing to become part of the community.....not just take money from it.
  • KS, I join you in the minority position. I couldn't have said it any better myself.
  • I actually had the pleasure of playing under Maestro Venzago and could feel his energy and enthusiasm surge all the way to the back of the orchestra. His charisma and atypical behavior will be missed. I do hope that the ISO can remain to be a top-tier orchestra in a middle-tier city. It sounds like money once again has ruined a good thing. Shame on everyone involved, and I'm sure both parties are partially at fault.
  • Ks and Jaco: Don't you wonder why it is that you are so much in a minority position? The ISO has lost a valuable asset and the public doesn't truly know the reason(s) why. You are assuming you do know why and many of us don't think you do. Maybe a moment to reassess is in order?
  • Well, Steve, if you'd like to provide some facts for me to reassess, I'll be glad to consider it....but we must be right, you must be wrong because there are fewer of you is not really a compelling argument.

    I'm a rare breed - someone with bachelor's degrees in both business and arts administration, I understand both sides of the issue rather well, having been involved with business and the arts in Indy for many years. I'm entitled to my opinion, just as you are to yours. You've not provided anything which would cause me to reevaluate the situation. I stand by my opinion.

    And, I again say, a conductor who helps in the fundraising in addition to conducting is probably a more valuable asset than one who just takes the money and shows up for concerts only. I'm not saying it wasn't a loss of an asset, but it could easily be possible to have a more valuable asset as a replacement. (don't we all sell a house to buy another one? The first one wasn't not valuable, we just valued the replacement more!)
  • KS,
    I don't have more facts and neither do you. You are indeed entitled to your opinion. I never said otherwise. I simply suggested that you reconsider on the basis that you don't have any real facts to go on. Even the one fact that you assert, that Maestro Venzago did not help in raising money doesn't qualify as a fact unless you have evidence you would like to submit. I don't know that to be true. You don't know that to be true. And the ISO has not really asserted that that is true either. Your opinion, entitled to it as you are, is based on assumptions unproven. The fact that you are in the minority does not make you wrong, but it doesn't make you right either. The only people who know the truth of this situation aren't talking publicly.
  • All the facts I know are what I've read. However, having been to performances at the ISO both when Maestro Venzago was conducting and when he was not, I can say that the orchestra seemed to sit up a little straighter and play more brightly when he was around. I believe that he really pushed the musicians to do their best work for him.

    On the other hand, it would sure be nice to have that level of skill and enthusiasm here year-round from someone who was committed not only to the orchestra, but to living in the community and making it a better place to live for all of us. I am a complete layman when it comes to how orchestra management works, but it seems to me that if management makes it a priority then the right person will leap at the job.
  • As a teen in Indianapolis, I believe that Crook Crookall made a horrible decision. Venzago was an absolute joy to watch when he conducted, and I hope to be a brilliant conductor like him some day.

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