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Graham Emberton

Everybody Clap Your Hands

October 24, 2012 at 5:38 AM

The Indianapolis Symphony is back! Last week a settlement was reached between musicians and management; this “bridge agreement” will cover the ISO up to February 3rd next year. If a substantial $5 million can be raised before January 31st, 2013, then a second contract will come into effect, covering the ISO up to September 3rd, 2017. The musicians have accepted some pretty steep cuts; the minimum pay has dropped to $53,000 from $78,000 (it would rise to $70,000 over the next five years) and the season has dropped from 52 weeks to 38-42. Especially considering these deep concessions, I’m very thankful the symphony has returned- there is something of a dearth of symphonies in Indiana and the ISO’s five week hiatus was significant (I think my university’s orchestra performance in September may have been the first symphony concert in the Indianapolis area). While I cannot afford to donate the handsome sums the ISO desperately needs, this weekend I did what a college student can best do to support orchestras, and attended the ISO’s opening concert consisting of Messiaen’s “Poemes pour Mi,” Ravel’s “Bolero,” and Debussy’s “La Mer.”

When I entered Hilbert Circle Theatre, home of the ISO, there was a real buzz to the place (not all due to the cocktail bar). As soon as the orchestra had assembled on stage the audience burst into a lengthy standing ovation. It was really touching, actually. Certainly the only time I’ve witnessed such glee and gratitude before a note had been played. Eventually the musicians themselves joined in the applause and everyone stood there, clapping. I think anyone watching this would have been boggled about how strife could possibly have permeated the ISO in the first place. Truly, people have missed having the symphony perform regularly.

Eventually the applause died down and conductor Krzysztof Urbanski, soprano Twyla Robinson, and the ISO began “Poemes pour Mi.” This cycle of nine songs was composed in 1936 and is dedicated to Messiaen’s wife, Clare Delbos (nicknamed Mi). Twyla Robinson sang with a beautiful, warm tone that was very appropriate for a work inspired by love and steeped in Catholic and biblical allusions. Following intermission, the orchestra performed “Bolero.” Krzysztof Urbanski made quite a statement; after coming on stage he pointedly walked off again to sit and watch the ISO perform sans conductor. I have loved Bolero for a long time, and even if you hate its repetitive nature, there’s no denying it’s catchy. The ISO did a fine job and a highlight for me was a positively rude saxophone solo by principal bassoonist Mark Ortwein. The performance closed with “La Mer.” This was what I was looking forward to most; I had recently worked on some of Debussy’s other orchestral works, “Nocturnes” and “Iberia,” for my school’s orchestra, and I’ve never seen “La Mer” performed live. Urbanski led the ISO in another strong rendition. The orchestra pulled off Debussy’s characteristic colors and tonal “painting” with success and Urbanski was hugely dynamic from the podium. Again the best part for me was observing individual players; this time it was fun watching concertmaster Zach DePue and principal violist Mike Chen interact with one another- looked like they were having a blast! Another standing ovation ensued, lasting for a long, long time. I think Urbanksi was puzzled by the fourth curtain call, but such was the appreciation of the audience, myself included.

Even if for now the ISO has lost its place amongst the full-year orchestras, even though its musicians are currently underpaid, even though gobs of money need to be raised, the gloomy aspects of the symphonic world were temporarily alleviated on Saturday with the essence of it all, music-making. I really hope the other orchestras around the nation also facing difficulties are able to reach a solution quickly because audiences really do care. The ISO is clearly a fundamental aspect of the Indianapolis cultural scene and was missed a great deal.

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