Music directorships are hard, hard jobs to come by, and a job as a music director at a major orchestra is one of the most difficult ones to get. After all, there are only so many major orchestras in the world and so many positions available, and by the time a conductor lands one, he’s almost certain to be well past his youth. With this as the general expectation, it’s no wonder that the recent appointment of 29-year-old Krzysztof Urbanski as Music Director of the Indianapolis Symphony has caused such a sensation.
Urbanski’s four-year term with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra began Sept. 1. He’s the seventh director in the orchestra’s 80-year history, and he also serves as chief conductor of the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra in Norway. His appointment in Indianapolis makes him the youngest music director of any major North American orchestra, but he is one of the few people not talking about his age. Despite write-ups of his appointments that are popping up in age-centric publications like the Indianapolis Business Journal’s “2012 Forty under 40,” Urbanski seems eager to steer the conversation away from his youth and toward the music. “When you can offer a lot from yourself, your age doesn’t really matter,” he said. “I am sure it isn’t an impediment in my collaboration with ISO. Understanding, feeling the music is only the matter of sensitivity and approach to art.”
Urbanski’s relationship with music seems to be a healthy and vibrant one. He speaks of beginning music lessons after a friend impressed him by introducing him to the piano, and, if the way he tells it is any indication, the rest unfolded as a sort of happy accident after that. Of his first conducting experience, he says, “I asked youth orchestra to play my compositions, but there was no one to lead them. I found conducting great fun and decided to learn how to do it professionally.” Urbanski graduated from the Chopin Music Academy in Warsaw in 2007. He was unanimous first-prize winner of the Prague Spring International Conducting Competition later that year.
His success and his own take on that success is a refreshing one. While his achievements speak of a great talent–talent on the magnitude that sometimes renders musicians somewhat difficult to relate to–his manner and interests lend him a distinctly accessible air. Despite the meteoric rise of his career–he will conduct in Indianapolis for six weeks during the 2011-2012 season and a minimum of 10 weeks the following season, all the while shuttling between Trondheim and the United States for the ensuing three years–he is keenly interested in fast cars and astronomy. Until he first found his interest in music piqued by that introduction to the piano in his late childhood, he had no idea classical music existed, but says now that “I am happy that my work can bring me such diverse and precious emotions and feelings of fulfillment.”When asked about his plans for himself 20 years down the road, though, he says he has no such plans: “Please ask me in 20 years.”
We could all stand to live in the moment like that a little more, no matter what our age. It seems to have worked for Krzysztof Urbanski.