ISO and Venzago part ways 

On Thursday afternoon, the partnership between the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and its illustrious, one-of-a-kind music director for seven years, Mario Venzago, came to an end with the announcement that the ISO is not renewing Venzago's contract. His tenure with the symphony ends when his current contract expires on Aug. 31, 2009. The search for a new music director will begin immediately, and Venzago's concerts in the series for the 2009-2010 season will be filled by other conductors.

"Mario has brought tremendous artistic success to the ISO during the past seven years," Simon Crookall, president and CEO of the ISO, said in a press release yesterday. "His partnership with the orchestra and his enthusiasm on the podium have delighted and entertained audiences. We are thankful to Mario for giving us many great memories."

Since joining the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in 2002, Mario Venzago has expanded the orchestra's repertoire and broadened its range of styles to include large romantic works, especially Bruckner, and contemporary pieces. In his seven seasons, he has received critical acclaim for his interpretations of Schumann, Brahms and Beethoven symphonies, as well as Ravel's orchestral works and Richard Strauss's tone poems. His collaboration with Indianapolis Opera for a unique production of Wagner's Ring opera Das Rheingold last May will never be forgotten by those who attended. His unassuming, soft-spoken persona belied his ability to communicate his thoughts commandingly about a work he was discussing, even through his grammatically botched-up English, from his Germanic Swiss background. Fluent in German, French and Italian, Venzago had learned no English till he was an adult and even then had spent less time in the States than most renowned European conductors.

Yet Crookall was evidently unhappy with several aspects of Venzago's tenure. "Mario's chief difficulty for us is his lack of a presence here in Indianapolis," he stated in a recent interview. "He is only here when he is conducting. And he strongly wanted the orchestra to tour, which we simply can't afford. Only the top five orchestras in the country are touring these days, plus the Cincinnati Pops, with [Eric] Kunzel."

According to Venzago's personal assistant Cassie Goldstein, following the orchestra's financial reversal of last season, Venzago was aware that tours were out of the question for the present, and was reconciled to that. She added that most major conductors these days have at least two disparately located living places -- where they conduct the most often. "Being an integral part of one community doesn't have the frequency it once had," she said. Venzago, at this writing, was unavailable for on-the-record comment.

Goldstein also says the decision not to renew Venzago's contract came rather abruptly, as contracts for an upcoming season are usually signed by the preceding November, precluding the flurry of activities to engage conductors on the short notice now made necessary.

Venzago has been invited to return to Indianapolis to conduct a final concert in the 2009-2010 season -- to say goodbye to his players and patrons. When or if details are confirmed, an announcement will be made.

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