Symphony shrinking from greatness

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The recent proposals [Sept. 3 IBJ] by the board of directors and the compliant management of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra to “save” it will only lead to its demise if implemented.

Their approach to the orchestra’s challenges is so devoid of any aspirational quality that it should be embarrassing to the talented board selected to lead the cultural treasure. The situation is especially disappointing when solutions always seem to be found for challenges facing the Colts and Pacers, both valuable to the community but no more so than the ISO if the city is to maintain a balanced appeal and quality of life.

The proposals to cut professional musicians from 87 to 63, a 28-percent reduction, and the season from 52 to 38 weeks, a 27-percent reduction, are nothing if not draconian to the extreme. They will quickly drive away many of the talented players, make the orchestra less attractive to other musicians, and devalue its sound, which has improved beyond measure after the arrival of Raymond Leppard, the former music director who embraced Indianapolis during his tenure and still calls the city home.

Also, any proposal to shift a major part of the program to other venues such as Carmel would merely pander to those who see no value to much of anything south of 82nd or 86th streets. To do so would lead to the decline of the region’s central economic, sports, and cultural core, the Indianapolis downtown. Performances in other venues, both locally and regionally, to broaden exposure to the orchestra’s extraordinary sound are very appropriate and necessary, although most summer performances are already played in Hamilton County at Conner Prairie.

Re-energize the capital campaign in a statewide effort, raise your sights, hire an executive director and a marketing director who also have proven fundraising skills, require that the musical director be an engaged member of the community, and seek to maintain the hard-won quality of a symphonic ensemble that ranks among the best of its peers in the country and enjoys an international reputation for excellence. No cultural institution can truly shrink to greatness.

James M. Vaughn

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