In May, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra announced that Krzysztof Urbański would step down as music director after the 2020-21 season. So what’s ahead for the 36-year-old Polish-born conductor? “I have no idea, honestly,” he said. “We will see.”
Whatever comes next, it seems sure that the future is bright for this much-in-demand maestro who has conducted some of the world’s most renowned orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra and New York Philharmonic.
In the meantime, Urbański has plenty to keep him busy, including his third appearance at the Ravinia Festival. He will lead the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Aug. 17 in a program that includes famed violinist Itzhak Perlman as soloist in Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26.
Also on the lineup is Wojciech Kilar’s Orawa for String Orchestra (1986), an 8½-minute work that was inspired by the Orawa (or Orava) region situated between Poland and Slovakia and the river of the same name that runs through it. “This is one of my favorite pieces,” Urbański said. “It’s so marvelous. It’s so simple. Simplicity is the key to it. At times you have the feeling that it’s almost Philip Glass minimalist music but it has a lot of spirit and it’s full of energy, and I hope the audience will love it.”
Kilar (1932-2013) wrote many concert works, but he was perhaps best known as a film composer, creating scores for more than 100 Polish and international films, including Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1993) and Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist” (2003). “This is actually the music that is very close to my heart,” Urbański said. “I love Kilar’s music both his concert music and his film scores — they’re really beautiful.”
Urbański first conducted the Indianapolis Symphony in 2010 — his American debut — and after another appearance, he was he named its music director, with the appointment effective in September 2011. When he steps down, he will have been with the ensemble for 10 years. “I think it’s just the right time for us to leave and for the orchestra to find new artistic leadership,” he said. “It’s good. I’m happy.”
Earlier posts included chief conductor of the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra in Norway and principal guest conductor of the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. In 2015, Urbański became principal guest conductor of Germany’s fast-rising NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra (formerly known as the NDR Symphony Orchestra Hamburg). In January 2017, the ensemble took up residence in the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, a startlingly contemporary addition to Hamburg’s skyline that contains what many musicians are calling one of the most acoustically sophisticated concert halls in Europe.
The maestro has made several recordings with the orchestra, including the most recent, an album featuring Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, released in September on the France-based Alpha Classics label. Urbański led 10 weeks of concerts with the NDR Elbphilharmonie in 2018-19 — many more than normal — because the orchestra was between chief conductors and he temporarily took over some of that position’s duties. In June 2017, the orchestra announced the appointment of Alan Gilbert, the former music director of the New York Philharmonic, as its next artistic leader, but his tenure does not begin until this fall. “This is a fantastic orchestra,” Urbański said. “Their new concert hall is one of my favorite places to make music, so I really love being there.”
Starting July 20 and continuing through Aug. 5, the conductor is leading an international tour with the Australian Youth Orchestra. The itinerary includes stops in Germany, France, Holland and China before concluding in the Sydney Opera House. “It’s actually a lot of fun,” he said. “I enjoy working with these marvelous young musicians. They are so full of energy. Every few years I really like to do a project with a youth orchestra, especially when it’s very good youth orchestra like this one.”