Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Jacob Joyce helps assure continuity as new ISO season takes shape with a push toward normality


Making a step forward to help the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra solidify its artistic side for the 2021-22 season, associate conductor Jacob Joyce takes on the title of resident conductor. Details on the new season were announced today, and are accessible by linking to  the orchestra's website. (As of June 3, he was tapped to conduct two ISO concerts next week that were to have been under the baton of Krzysztof Urbanski, the departing music director. The ISO announced that travel restrictions related to the pandemic forced Urbanski to cancel his farewell appearances in Hilbert Circle Theatre.)

Jacob Joyce: new ISO resident conductor
A representative of the under-30 generation now making its mark in classical music, Joyce has been been on the conducting staff since 2018. He told me that his new position essentially continues the duties of the job he was hired for three years ago.

The difference is that the need for continuity needed to be shored up in the absence of a new music director — during what the young conductor describes as "a semi-vacuum of artistic leadership." Urbanski's tenure ends this month; a frequent ISO guest conductor, Jun Märkl, has been engaged as artistic advisor. There is another important transition on the artistic side: director of artistic planning Katie McGuinness has departed to take on a similar post with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.


"I will be able to advise the new director: what we need to do going forward, what to improve," Joyce said. Assuming the present format continues, even with some expected relaxation of Covid-19 protocols, the resident conductor "will do a lot of Discovery shows, Side-by-Side, family shows," plus a subscription concert in 2021-22, he told me. Some vacancies, including three principals, will need to be filled as well, a decision in which Joyce expects to take part.

Joyce has already made his mark in expanding the ISO's virtual programming. That has provided a major link to the past, given the orchestra's idle condition from March 2020 until last month. He masterminded and hosted the Christel DeHaan Virtual Baroque Series, which placed a small contingent of ISO members onstage to present music from the 17th and 18th centuries, repertoire that most symphony orchestras have largely withdrawn from in recent decades. Yet the emphasis is also meant to build on the legacy of Raymond Leppard, the conductor laureate of the ISO who died in 2019.

Besides conducting the ensemble, Joyce presented onstage commentary, and in music of Handel and Pachelbel, played principal second violin. Patrons might be hearing more of that from Joyce in the years to come: "To be honest, that's kind of a secret hope of mine: to play and conduct from the violin." 

Of the Virtual Baroque Series, Joyce summed up its success this way: "We got a lot of views. One of the goals was to show off the talent to the community outside Indianapolis," he said, "and the feedback was overwhelming and encouraging." 

Virtual connection with a potentially global audience is an aim the ISO shares with many orchestras today: "Orchestras are shifting to that in addition to live concerts. It's building your brand online. We want to share the quality of our musicians with as many people around the world as we can, because we have something special to offer."

Joyce extends that to a hope that the audience for classical music will expand, a theme he has tried to build on through another of his innovations — the ISO podcast "Attention to Detail." 

"People are looking to get back to live experiences," the conductor said, "and I think we will see new people coming out because the pandemic has increased people's appetite for live experiences. We will have to keep thinking about ways to keep [the orchestra] relevant to people's daily lives."

Joyce insists that can be done "while keeping the integrity of the music. It's not about dumbing it down for people, but how do we brand it. Classical music is a thought-provoking medium, but one that anyone can engage with."

To get that across to a wider public is "the persistent challenge facing all orchestras."

This Yale graduate with a bachelor's degree in music and economics (his master's is in violin performance) probably has a brass-tacks sense of how to help the ISO cultivate that wider public.



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