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October 20, 2009

Mario Venzago speaks out about being removed as music director of Indianapolis Symphony

Mario Venzago, the exceptional conductor who was unceremoniously pushed out the door of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra by the CEO over the summer, has spoken for the first time about the situation, in a statement released by his personal assistent. It's an eloquent document (the complete text follows), as you would expect from such an expressive artist.

Venzago says he is speaking now because "further silence on my part would be unfair to my many friends in Indianapolis who have expressed in very touching words their concern and provided me their overwhelming support during these difficult weeks."

Negotiations on Venzago's contract, which had been going on for many months, suddenly halted. Word came that the orchestra's president and CEO Simon Crookall wanted the conductor to take an effective 50-percent pay cut, which seemed absurd to some of us.

In his own statement, Venzago does not address financial issues, but concentrates instead on the abruptness of Crookall's decision not to renew his contract a few weeks before the start of a season that the music director had planned. "Termination on such short notice is unprecedented in the world of classical music," Venzago says. "For me, as you can well imagine, this news was emotionally devastating. Only one week before, Mr. Crookall embraced me at the Musical Arts Center at Indiana University in recognition of my artistic achievement. The ISO administration and I had been planning the 2009/10 season for more than two years."

In the end, the conductor says, he "will

continue to support the ISO despite this unfortunate event. Even if I am hurt and disappointed, my soul is not broken. I will never stop loving this great orchestra in Indianapolis with its sensitive, enthusiastic musicians who gave of themselves so freely ..."

Anyone who has heard his music-making knows the value of Venzago. We were fortunate in Baltimore to experience his work often back at the start of the decade, when he energized the BSO's summer music festival, and in a few guest appearances during the regular season over the years. (I never did understand why he wasn't brought back even more often, but, then, I've also wondered that about some other classy conductors who have been absent from that particular podium.)

It's hard not to feel that management of the ISO made a serious error. At the very least, Venzago deserved better treatment than this.

Here's his complete statement:

FAREWELL, DEAR FRIENDS

Mario Venzago, Music Director, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, 2002-2009:

Since the ISO announced the non-renewal of my Conductor and Music Director Agreements on July 30th of this year, I have, on the wise counsel of my advisors, refrained from making any formal statement and have not commented on the many things written in the newspapers – true or untrue regarding my departure as Conductor and Music Director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra last July.

After so many weeks, however, further silence on my part would be unfair to my many friends in Indianapolis who have expressed in very touching words their concern and provided me their overwhelming support during these difficult weeks. For the moment, I wish to touch only on the main events surrounding my departure and will reserve any additional comment for those who request it.

On July 30th, I received without any warning or expectation a short e-mail from Simon Crookall, President and CEO of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, informing me that my Conductor and Music Director Agreements would not be renewed for the 2009/10 season. These agreements were set to expire just 31 days later on August 31st and have indeed now since expired. Mr. Crookall and my agent had been negotiating the renewal of these Agreements since the Fall of 2008.

Termination on such short notice is unprecedented in the world of classical music. Just six weeks prior to the start of the season and with contract negotiations still in progress, I was abruptly told that my Agreements would not be renewed, but that I would be offered the opportunity to conduct a “farewell week”. In the view of Mr. Crookall, this would be a fitting celebration of my seven years of artistic success as conductor and music director of the ISO.

For me, as you can well imagine, this news was emotionally devastating. Only one week before, Mr. Crookall embraced me at the Musical Arts Center at Indiana University in recognition of my artistic achievement. The ISO administration and I had been planning the 2009/10 season for more than two years. I had blocked the dates and turned down numerous conducting offers from other orchestras. The dates of the concerts were set and the programs planned. We contracted soloists, calculated costs, prepared PR materials, printed a brochure and started to sell tickets. No reputable orchestra mindful of the costs would make changes at this critical point, unless money was of no concern. I relied during these negotiations on the good faith of Mr. Crookall and the Board and expected to be treated fairly.

After the announcement of the non-renewal, I have received hundreds of letters from ISO musicians, members of other orchestras, concert-goers, composers, people from Indianapolis and other places. They have confided in me how shocked they were upon learning of my departure and how much they loved and respected my work. In particular, the musicians described in touching, heart-felt words how much they loved performing with me. I have not been able to answer all of their wonderful expressions of concern and appreciation and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has written and spoken with me.

In conclusion, let me express the hope that the donors, sponsors and subscribers will continue to support the ISO despite this unfortunate event. Even if I am hurt and disappointed, my soul is not broken. I will never stop loving this great orchestra in Indianapolis with its sensitive, enthusiastic musicians who gave of themselves so freely, and I will always be deeply moved remembering my Indianapolis friends in this warm-hearted and peaceful community. Here and there, if only for a fleeting moment, we were privileged to have touched the stars. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart and wish the ISO all the best in the future.

Mario Venzago

October 2009

Posted by Tim Smith at 7:40 AM | | Comments (3)
        

Comments

Thanks for the news, Tim! To say that President "Crook" made a "serious error" (and the nature of communication -- or apparent lack thereof - in this situation) is accurate. That "style" of management is more often found in a warehouse or fast-food franchise, where a manager can have a hissy-fit and summarily dismiss an employee rather easily. This type of operation does _not_ belong in an orchestra. (As, fortunately, the age of tyrant conductors seems to have passed -- and Mario is the _polar_ opposite of any such personality!)

Until the "management" situation there is remedied, I am as likely to attend an ISO concert as to attend a Colts game: not at all.

Well, if Mr. Venzago is interested, a chief conductorship just opened up in Munich as of 2011, with the announcement that Christian Thielemann is leaving the Munich Philharmonic in 2011, and will become chief conductor of the Dresden Staatskapelle in 2012. Speaking as the village atheist, I say: God help Dresden.

There's also the music directorship of the Orchestre National de Lyon, where Jun Markl will step down in 2011. So if Mr. Venzago keeps his options open, he might still land a chief conductorship somewhere.

Indianapolis has lost an enormous talent, but I don't believe this is a serious error. He advanced our orchestra in significant ways, but there is plenty of great talent among the ranks of symphony conductors seeking positions. I will miss Venzago, but I missed him a lot when he held the job too. How can you pay a music director who is more like a principal guest conductor? Thank you for a tremendous job, Mario. We need to keep moving ahead.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at baltimoresun.com/artsmash. This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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