ISO's Krzysztof UrbanskiI love all types of music. I love old theaters. I love exploring my city. So what took me so long to venture out to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s (ISO) inaugural wave of Krzysztof Urbanski’s first season as Music Director? This Polish-American whippersnapper has left an impression on the world of modern classical music and redefined where the future of the genre will grow.

Most of us learn an appreciation for the strings, tuba and timpani from Saturday morning cartoons. And if we’re lucky, we might learn a little thing or three about the great composers of old during our weekly piano or (like me) violin lessons as a child. Today, many of these “long hair music” melodies are relegated to the far left of your FM dial.

But Urbanski and his cohorts aren’t satisfied with that. At the modest age of 29, he’s ushering in a new era of classical appreciation. And I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to find out what all the fuss was about.

So on a balmy Saturday evening in downtown Indianapolis, I set out to enjoy one of the last performances of the 2011-2012 ISO’s season. Symphonic Hits, featuring the work of Maurice Ravel and Dmitri Shostakovich, was a perfect way to re-introduce myself to the world of classical music.

Now don’t get me wrong, I occasionally listen to 88.7FM and I have a wonderful MP3 playlist dedicated to the splendor of Bizet, Schubert and Mendelssohn. However, spending an evening in a concert hall, gazing at the bows dancing up and down their strings, is another level of commitment. Would I still be able to appreciate the music that I struggled to re-create in rehearsals every Thursday after school?

Turns out, the answer is yes!

Maurice Ravel

Pavane pour une infante defunte

The opening piece was a wonderful introduction to one of the masters of the early 20th century. The sweet, dulcet tones of the Pavane pour une infante defunte will either rock you to sleep like a beautiful lullaby or send you into a reverie of the most bittersweet moments of your life. Urbanski made a beautiful choice to begin the evening with this number, but little did I know that it would be nothing like what lie ahead.

Concerto in G Major for Piano and Orchestra

The Concerto in G Major for Piano and Orchestra featured piano virtuoso Simon Trpceski, who showed us why he’s one of the hottest name in classical music. The “Allegramente” was playful with broken rhythms, but still oddly sensual in its own way. But it was the soothing and bordering-on-erotic “Adagio Assai” that shined a spotlight on the Ravel we all know and love. The iconoclast finished the Concerto in G Major with a quick, but mellow “Presto” that gave Trpceski a chance to release his inner Oscar Levant.

Ravel’s brilliant opus and Trpceski’s exuberant performance drew three bows before the Macedonian maestro returned for an encore. Playing a Chopin piece he learned when he was 7 years old, this clever pianist titillated us with his ability to be both dynamic and light-hearted at the same time.

Dimitri Shostakovich

Symphony No. 10 in E Minor, Op. 93

Opening with a short video after intermission, the audience received a brief introduction into the history of Symphony No. 10 in E Minor. Shostakovich wrote Symphony No. 10 in October 1953, after a period of self-inflicted and government-sanctioned censure. Accused by the leaders of Stalin’s regime that his music encouraged atonal dissonance and anti-democratic dalliances, Shostakovich stopped composing for 5 years.

ISO PercussionistsIt wasn’t until after the fall of Stalin that he set about composing Symphony No. 10 in E Minor, a piece brimming with themes of rebirth and re-awakening. The “Moderato” movement has a subtle melodic beginning, which grows into a fantastic showcase of sweeping, bombastic sound. Then, it moves into a softer, more mellow lyricism that signifies a hesitation of his refound joy.

The timidity — although soothing — gives way to a new chrysalis of emotion. Reaffirming Shostakovich’s love for the “cacophony” of music, he takes the “Allegretto” movement and creates brilliant swell after swell. Sometimes simple and frothy, with its booming kettledrums and cymbal crashes, Symphony No. 10 moves from waxing love song to heart-thumping march.

Not to be outdone by the magnificent roll of the timpani, the piece continued with a wonderful flourish of the French horns led by the inimitable Robert Danforth (principal horn). The rich sounds of the French horn solo were followed by equally impressive solos from the lead flute and piccolo. A lesser symphony would be jealous.

But the ISO is certainly no lesser symphony, and Urbanski makes sure it never will be. His body sways fluidly to the music as he conducts, perfectly complementing the emotion of the piece. It looks a bit silly, even nerdy, but he can’t help it. There’s not a bad seat in the house and this last performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 in E Minor will end with a glorious bang.

After the curtain call, the ISO hosted an after-symphony mingle with free wine and music in the lobby of the Hilbert Circle theatre. Subdued lights and generous alcohol would not hush the accolades heard around the room. Urbanski certainly lived up to his reputation, and the audience was happy to sing his and the ISO’s praises as they left the theater on that warm, starry spring night.

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