Under contract for the long term, Jun Märkl looks ahead with ISO

Jun Märkl: Master of detail as well as the big arc

Between now and September 1, Jun Märkl will be deepening his already extensive connection with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

Newly signed to a five-year contract as the orchestra's eighth music director, the native of Munich, Germany, draws upon deep experience here and abroad to move from artistic advisor to a more complete and powerful status as director of the ISO's core musical mission, starting with the 2024-25 season.

Speaking by phone late Tuesday afternoon after having got to work immediately, Märkl had just come from auditions at Hilbert Circle Theatre, the orchestra's home. For several years, the list of ISO musicians in every program book has included "Acting" in front of several principal and associate or assistant principal positions. "When you do not have a music director, many positions are on hold," the new music director explained, including section positions. "We schedule them as soon as possible."

The service of musicians with acting status is acknowledged by allowing them to skip the first audition round. Otherwise the vacancies are open. The experienced players have to go through the rest of the auditions. "If we make the wrong decision, we have the problem for the next 40 years," he added, in a rare expression of stressing the consequentiality of the decisions to come.

Coming from the artistic advisor job, Märkl knows the value of patience in "the waiting lounge," as he puts it. In the year-to-year continuation of that position before the next music director is hired, "he can't do a creative vision strategy for the future. We try to make the best of it," he said of the assignment, choosing guest conductors and repertoire in the interim. Starting Sept. 1, he will exercise full authority over those areas here.

Support of orchestras through tickets and donations must be sensitive to the communities served. "You have to be sure that style goes well with the audience," Märkl said. The Japanese-German musician, who will celebrate his 65th birthday next month, brings the full weight of his experience to bear. "This is my seventh music-director job; I have 45 years' experience." As for the ISO in particular: "We have known each other for over 20 years. I know what to expect, and we've built a friendship over some difficult and some better times. It has always been a very positive relationship. We can be sure from both sides that we don't have bad surprises." 

He is also getting to know the community better, which he did not have time to do following the pattern of brief guest-conducting appearances over the years. He plans to establish a local residence with his wife, Susanne. In the process of furthering his bond with the city and the metropolitan area, he expects ISO musicians will advise him well.  "We think that strengthening the orchestra in the community is the main priority," and that may include his renewed relationship with Symphony on the Prairie, the summer series of outdoor concerts at Conner Prairie. His first engagement with the ISO was there.

As he looks into his Indianapolis future, Märkl will continue his post as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra of Tawian while preparing to add the position of chief conductor of the Residentie Orkest in The Hague, starting with the 2025-26 season. His current relationship with the Oregon Symphony as principal guest conductor is in question as that organization intends to reduce the number of classical concerts next season, he said. 

While retraining his professional focus on the Hoosier capital,  Märkl hopes to include in the orchestra's activities a continuation of such  ventures as last season's two-weekend Shakespeare festival. "I want us to cross borders," he said,  "to reach out to dance and drama, and that will enrich our playing. Our musicians can be part of the story and they can see the function of music (with other arts). It's great to have this extension — also with video and film. It helps us think differently about music."


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