It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. That stolen thought hit me when I was asked to write about classical music for 2002. Change - mainly in attendance patterns - filled this first post-Sept. 11 year. But with it came a few really memorable events.
Mario Venzago is the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra"s new music director.
The April 29 announcement of Mario Venzago as the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra"s new music director stands out as one of the latter. The 53-year-old Swiss-born conductor remains an intriguing but largely unknown figure on this side of the Atlantic. His vision for the orchestra - combining wholly disparate interpretive approaches between the Baroque/Classical and the Romantic/Modern periods - is an ambitious one at the least. Meanwhile, the parade of ISO guest conductors continues through the current season while Venzago completes his previously-made contract obligations. Last Jan. 21, we had the first stand-out event with the first "creation" I"ve ever witnessed taking place during a musical performance. Accompanying Kirk Trevor and the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra"s playing of Ravel"s Mother Goose ballet music, visual artist Jim Oss created a painting apropos to the music, using materials and a canvas placed at one side of the orchestra. With impeccable timing, Oss completed his canvas at the music"s final bars. A perhaps audacious notion beautifully carried off. On June 23, the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis presented its final 2001-"02 Laureate Series concert, which featured as beautiful a duo collaboration as I can recall hearing: violinist and 1986 IVCI bronze medalist AndrÈs C·rdenes and pianist Zeyda Ruga Suzuki in violin sonatas of Mozart, Respighi and Beethoven. C·rdenes - currently the Pittsburgh Symphony concertmaster - seemed to connect with Suzuki (both are native Cubans) such as to render the duo greater than the sum of its two contributors. One of 2002"s landmark events was the complete refurbishing, last summer, of the Hilbert Circle Theatre stage - especially as it achieved its goal: improved audibility among the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra players. But the change added for the patrons a resonant bloom to the hall, one that appears optimized only when the hall is filled. The lower the attendance the greater the resonance, which then commences to compromise clarity. July 26 saw the appearance of Lionheart, six masterful male singers specializing in Renaissance polyphony - under the auspices of the Festival Music Society, in one of the FMS" six concerts comprising their summer early-music series. Featuring music of 16th century masters Palestrina and Victoria, we heard some of the most beautiful singing this side of Nirvana. September"s Sixth Quadrennial International Violin Competition of Indianapolis dominated the world"s music scene for 16 days. Sergey Khachatryan - a 17-year-old Armenian - in turn dominated the event as no previous fiddle player ever has, taking the silver medal, rather than the gold (the "cult" of the silver medalist continues at the IVCI), which was awarded to Hungary"s Barnabas Kelemen. Khachatryan was the talk of the lion"s share of musicians, music lovers and attendees of all persuasion. It"s with breathless anticipation that we look forward to his Indy reappearance in the upcoming Feb. 11 Suzuki-Laureate concert.