Jun Märkl, named Tuesday as music director for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, said one of his top priorities is to increase concert attendance in the post-pandemic era.
“After COVID, we have to regain our audience,” Märkl told the IBJ before his introduction as the orchestra’s eighth music director in the organization’s 94-year history.
Märkl, a maestro who has led orchestras in France, Spain, Taiwan, Malaysia and his home country of Germany, made his first appearance as music director designate at downtown’s Hilbert Circle Theatre—where the ISO reports ticket revenue is down 36% when compared to pre-pandemic figures.
“We are creating a product, a highly artistic product,” Märkl said. “We just have to see how to sell this product and how to get people interested in this product. Maybe that’s different from the last generation. We cannot trust that people will just come to us.”
The pandemic played a role in the process of Märkl becoming music director.
Märkl’s predecessor, Krzysztof Urbanski, was scheduled to end a 10-year run as music director in 2021. Because of the pandemic’s arrival in 2020, Urbański’s presence in Indianapolis was limited and the search for his successor was delayed.
Since 2021, Märkl has served as the ISO’s artistic adviser.
“It’s a title we created for a special situation,” he said. “It was to cross and handle the time between two music directors. I was asked, and I offered my help to cover the time because you need somebody to take care of the orchestra and the artistic planning.”
While Märkl said he advised ISO’s leadership to take its time when selecting Urbanski’s successor, he made no assumptions about being the eventual selection.
“The ISO is thrilled to announce Jun Märkl as the orchestra’s next music director,” CEO James Johnson said in a written statement. “The ISO is deeply grateful to Maestro Märkl for his artistic leadership and unwavering commitment to the orchestra. We look forward to an exhilarating new era of musical collaboration and artistic excellence.”
The son of Joseph Märkl, an orchestra concertmaster in Munich, and Ushio Märkl, a pianist, made his first appearance as a guest conductor for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in 2000. The orchestra was seeking a successor to Raymond Leppard, the organization’s fifth music director, when Märkl served as conductor for a Symphony on the Prairie concert.
Looking back at that visit, Märkl said the 2024 edition of the orchestra is a stronger group.
“The orchestra was always wonderful to work with and very nice people,” he said. “But the quality was not so high. During this more than 20 years, I know they made such remarkable progress.”
One of his plans for boosting audience engagement is to add post-performance discussions.
“I would like to introduce talks after the concert so we can sit together, with the audience asking questions or sharing their experience with us,” he said.
Märkl’s tenure as music director is scheduled to begin Sept. 1, which marks the beginning of the ISO’s 2024-25 season. On Friday and Saturday, he will conduct performances of “The Music of Strauss” at Hilbert Circle Theatre. For more information, visit indianapolissymphony.org.
Globe-trotting Märkl presently serves as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan and principal guest conductor of the Oregon Symphony. Beginning with the 2025-26 season, he will serve as chief conductor of the Residentie Orkest in The Hague.
Märkl’s five-year contract with the ISO extends through the 2028-29 season. He will conduct nine weeks of concerts in Indianapolis each season, beginning with six weeks during the 2024–25 season.
When the ISO hired Urbański at age 28, he was the youngest music director of any major orchestra in the United States.
Märkl, described in published critiques as a charismatic conductor who brings buoyant energy to the stage, will celebrate his 65th birthday on Feb. 11.
“I still have a lot of energy,” he said. “ And I also have this experience. Not only musical experience, but also experience as a leader in human relationships. That’s very important for leading an orchestra, I think, because orchestra is very much about ‘team’ and this team spirit.”
The ISO declined to disclose details related to Markl’s compensation.
Urbański earned more than $545,000 in 2019, according to the organization’s not-for-profit tax forms.
ISO music directors through the years
Ferdinand Schaefer (1930-1937)
Fabien Sevitzky (1937-1955)
Izler Solomon (1956-1975)
John Nelson (1976-1987)
Raymond Leppard (1987-2001)
Mario Venzago (2002-2009)
Krzysztof Urbański (2011-2021)
Jun Märkl (hired in 2024)