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he’S yoUnG, bUt Good At 28, Krzysztof Urbański is now the youngest music director of a US symphony orchestra. Great timing, great talent, says Olivia Giovetti

Just as surely as Dvo∑ák didn’t expect to write one of his most enduring works while living in the United States, so wunderkind Polish conductor Krzysztof Urbański probably didn’t expect his own American debut with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra to yield a musical directorship. It was Dvo∑ák’s beloved Ninth Symphony that won him his own instantaneous acclaim, and it was Urbański’s US debut in April 2010 – conducting the same piece Dvo∑ák premiered 117 years earlier – that delivered an equally explosive burst of fame (along with other eruptions).

Indeed, it was the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull that stranded Urbański in Indiana following his commanding and assertive debut with the orchestra. And it was while he served out this unexpected furlough that he was offered the leading role of the orchestra’s music director, a post he officially took up this past September.

‘I knew that the Indianapolis Symphony was doing wonderful stuff and they’re very ambitious,’ says Urbański. Although his rehearsal time with the orchestra was short compared with the lengthier periods usually allotted in Europe, Urbański felt an immediate, almost mystical, rapport with the Indianapolis musicians. ‘Somehow,’ he observes, ‘I think they were just reading my mind.’

Such a stroke of luck for Urbański also proved a stroke of good fortune for the ISO: its former music director, Mario Venzago, had made a hasty and unexpected departure at the onset of the 2009-10 season. In this lessthan-ideal situation, every guest conductor was considered as a possible candidate for the post, and things really began to look up when the then 27-year-old Urbański arrived in the Circle City.

‘It became clear when he blasted through town that we needed to take a very hard look at this person,’ says concertmaster Zach De Pue. ‘He’s strong-minded and has a great will to make music. He knows what he wants and he knows the scores inside out. We were seeing some other excellent people around the time, but Krzysz was an eyebrow-raiser.’

This wasn’t the first time Urbański had raised eyebrows, though, and nor did Indianapolis offer a unique moment of serendipity – of gramophone.co.uk

Krzysztof Urbański:

as compelling a talent as he is a personality an ideal merging of timing and talent – in the life and career of the young maestro. Born in 1982 in the central Polish town of Pabianice, Urbański’s entry into the world of music was itself accidental. When his childhood friend enrolled in music school, Urbański followed suit – after all, it was important not to lose touch with his favourite football-playing chum.

But by 2007, the year he graduated from the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music in Warsaw, he’d won the Prague Spring International Conducting Competition and had been appointed by Antoni Wit – his mentor and the music director of the Warsaw Philharmonic – as assistant conductor of the orchestra.

‘His way of studying conducting, of working, show he’s very clever,’ says Wit. ‘In future, I think he’ll be up there with the greatest conductors. From the very beginning I could recognise in him a strong personality.’

The concept of ‘cleverness’, a trait he seems to have inherited from Wit, arises frequently when colleagues discuss Urbański. Three months before he gave his protégé the chance to conduct The Rite of Spring, Wit had an inkling that the original conductor of the piece might not pan out. It was at that point that he asked his assistant to ready himself for a possible performance. Then, 10 days before the concert, it was confirmed

GRAMOPHONE NOVEMBER 2011 I