Classical Music Season preview Am I reading the tea leaves correctly, or are we locally earmarked for a downturn in classical music support? Last season saw a drop in attendance at all the principal event venues, except for one: Anything held at the new Indiana Historical Society (IHS) Concert Hall either maintained or increased its patronage over its previous two seasons.

Former ISO music director John Nelson will conduct the ISO"s Gala opening this Sunday.

Still, the new season is about to begin with the usual expectation of memorable events. Let"s start with the Indianapolis Symohony Orchestra: Its Gala opening concert is this Sunday at 6 p.m. and will see the podium return of former music director John Nelson after over a decade"s absence. Mario Venzago, the orchestra"s new music director, will conduct three concerts this season, with his fu;; season beginning 2003-"04. This ISO season will also feature American works in the first 19 of the 21 series concerts, in themselves not likely to attract audiences, given the general aversion to most modern music. However, the associated symphonic mainstays, coupled with attractive guest conductors and soloists, will compensate. Having relocated to its new IHS venue, the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis celebrated Suzuki & Friends chamber series will also change its performing day to Tuesday evenings at 7:30 p.m. from the former Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m. Famed cellist Sharon Robinson will be a featured soloist along with clarinetist Eli Eban on Oct. 15. Their final two programs will each feature a single composer: Schubert for March 4 and Strauss for April 29. The Ronen Chamber Ensemble will, as last season, present only two of its four concerts in the intimacy of its "home" venue, the Hilbert Circle Theatre Wood Room. The other two, featuring past IVCI laureates Robin Sharp and Jaakko Kuusisto, will be held at ... you guessed it: the IHS Concert Hall. For Ronen devotees, an interestingly esoteric season is planned, including a flute-clarinet duet by Howard Buss, written for ISO clarinetist Rebecca Price Arrensen and her father. Later in the season we"ll have a tango for guitar, violin and cello by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla. Beginning its season on Oct. 9 with Great Britain"s Endellion String Quartet, the Ensemble Music series follows on Nov. 6 with the Budapest Strings and Indy-raised pianist Frederic Chiu. Four additional world-renowned touring groups will appear, concluding on April 23 with the Ahn Trio, featuring three Korean-born sisters - two of them twins. Beginning its 61st season as a community ensemble, the Philharmonic Orchestra of Indianapolis will perform at the University of Indianapolis" Ransburg Auditorium, the Ben Davis High School auditorium, the Pike Performing Arts Center and the Warren Performing Arts Center. Podium duties will be shared by music director emeritus Jackson Wiley and artistic advisor Orcenith Smith. Indy"s "second" all-professional symphonic ensemble, the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, plans an ambitious season, whereby tickets for all eight of its subscription concerts will, for the first time, be interchangeable. With all programs held at Clowes Hall, the ICO will offer Bach"s too-often-overlooked Christmas Oratorio on Dec. 15 in place of its usual presentation of Handel"s Messiah. The latter work will appear during the Easter season (April 13), where it more appropriately belongs, and both will use the services of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir. ICO music director Kirk Trevor will conduct the latter here for the first time. The ICO will also help to launch the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir"s season on Oct. 19, with the debut performance of Transcendental Sonnets by Kyle Gann. Also included will be the contemporary Lux Aeterna by Morten Lauridsen. Aside from the Christmas Oratorio and Messiah concerts mentioned above, the ISC Chamber Singers will present a collaborative program with the Indianapolis Museum of Art on Nov. 9, in which engravings, etchings and woodcuts created by the most celebrated printmaking artists of the Northern Renaissance will be displayed, along with their singing. Nationally renowned Indianapolis tenor Steven Stolen will host his sixth Meridian Song Project at Trinity Episcopal Church with three recitals. The first, on Oct. 6, will feature Liszt"s Petrarch Sonnets and Britten"s Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo; the second, on Feb. 9, is devoted to pieces by Ralph Vaughan-Williams and Richard Rodgers. On April 27, Stolen will conclude with a kaleidoscopic program of songs, arias, show tunes and standards. Also in residence at Trinity Episcopal is Ensemble Ouabache, featuring Baroque chamber music played on period instruments, which presents its three-concert season on Oct. 11, Nov. 22 and Feb. 14. Ouabache"s larger counterpart, the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra, which the Christel DeHaan Center has so far retained as its ensemble-in-residence, will present five programs, also on period instruments, and conducted by its artistic director John Holloway. Last, and hardly least, Indianapolis Opera will start and end with repertory staples dealing with a consumptive heroine, Verdi"s La Traviata and Puccini"s La BohËme - the latter now viewed as the world"s most popular opera. In between, IO will present Johann Strauss Jr."s Die Fledermaus and Jules Massenet"s Werther. IO"s popular soprano Amy Johnson will sing the title role in BohËme.

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