Monday, June 2, 2014

Pre-eminent orchestral training ground for young musicians has put a smooth leadership transition in place

Not many founders of artistic organizations enjoy the advantage of having mentored their successors for half their lives.

Susan Kitterman will be NWYSO artistic director for one more season.
Susan Kitterman, founder and artistic director of the New World Youth Symphony Orchestras, occupies such an enviable position as she prepares to retire at 62. She will yield artistic directorship of the young people's ensemble she founded in 1982 to Adam Bodony, a trombonist-conductor who came up through the organization, from student member to executive director.

In an interview, Kitterman recalled the day her son Ben came home from school at Hamilton Southeastern and told her: "There's a new freshman baritone player in the band who I think is a real musician."

Remembering  the endorsement of her oldest child (now a dobro/pedal-steel player with country musician Aaron Lewis), Kitterman invited the baritone-playing freshman to an informal audition. Impressed, she told him he would need to learn an orchestral instrument in order to join New World. In the course of a year, Adam had switched to trombone, and by his junior year, he was sitting first chair in the New World YSO (the top ensemble of three now under the the New World Youth Orchestras umbrella).

Bodony went on to major in religious studies and trombone at DePauw University in Greencastle, then took a master's in trombone performance at Indiana University.  Along the way, he kept in touch with Kitterman and her organization, sometimes leaving the intense environment of graduate school to visit Indianapolis and sit in on New World rehearsals.

"He gets the New World mission," said Kitterman — a mission she has often described as addressing the whole person, not just the musician, in each member. "I've seen how much of an impact he is having on students," she added, referring to his progress from consultant and leader of sectional rehearsals to conductor of the Philharmonic Orchestra.

 "She instilled in me the same values she had," Bodony explained. "With all the tools she's given me, she trusts me. She made me feel special, (but) we all felt important in New World."

Adam Bodony is the orchestras' artistic director designate.
Along the way, Bodony has helped the organization surmount a budgetary crisis for two years starting in 2010, after which a $40,000 annual shortfall came to light. With Kitterman and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra assistant principal bassist Robert Goodlett, he launched an aggressive recruitment campaign that reversed a 25 percent membership loss. Tuition payments increased, a major factor in righting the financial ship, given that tuition is 60 percent of the organization's income. Now its three orchestras have a total of 180 members.

Bodony reports that the organization's books are balanced as it prepares to head into the 2014-15 season. The transitional year will find both Kitterman and Bodony on the podium for concerts at Hilbert Circle Theatre. His title will be artistic director designate, and he will continue as executive director.

"It will be good for me to get more on-the-job training," Bodony admitted, though the 29-year-old's conducting skills have already been acknowledged by other organizations: He is the new artistic director of the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra and, as assistant conductor of the Missouri Symphony Orchestra,  will be on the podium for several of its "Hot Summer Nights" festival performances this summer.

Kitterman is stepping aside for two personal reasons — making a greater commitment to personal care for her mother, an Alzheimer's patient living in Arlington Heights, Ill., and helping her daughter, Katie, open and run a bakery in Fortville.

But there are musical reasons as well. "She sees New World as something bigger than her," Bodony explained. "She is humble about that. She realizes that she could conduct for another 10 years, but she knows that may not be best for the orchestra.  She's the first person to tell people that this is what she wants, that it's time to do this."

Kitterman's role after next season is yet to be determineed.  Bodony predicts she will continue in some kind of board or adviser position "forever," but she won't be hovering: "She wants the organization to find its own identity."

"The thing that gives me the most confidence is that I know that I know him," Kitterman said of Bodony. "He has the best interests of the organization at heart. He's done a lot to further his career, and it's really fun for me to see him coming into his own."

Kitterman's preparation to do what she's done for more than 30 years was a process she describes as more "seat-of-the-pants."  She started the string program at Carmel Junior High School, remaining with the district for four years, then took time off to start a family.

She really missed working with young people, however, and began New World as a smaller, more focused alternative to the large locally based youth orchestra that was then based at Butler University.  Choosing the right repertoire for the forces she has at her command, starting with the 18 string players in the original New World, has been a guiding principle for Kitterman throughout her career. So has encouragement of the best students' musical careers, but always with bracing realism about the difficulties — and the insistence that the inner urge to become professional must be strong.

"Adam is coming to the job with a more focused skill set," she said. "He's got the passion, and he's got all these other things as well.  I did what I could do best, to the best of my ability. He's going to do great things."