New Columbus Symphony Orchestra Music Director Josh Aerie confronts the task of working with teen musicians alongside accomplished, seasoned professionals.

Such is the talent smorgasbord for the ensemble welcoming only its fourth new leader since the 1970s — and launching its new season, “The Journey Begins,” with an Oct. 4 concert.

Aerie has replaced Roger Kalia, who left to become assistant conductor of the Charlotte Symphony and just recently was named assistant conductor of California’s Pacific Symphony.

“I understand that real life creeps in for many of these people,” Aerie said of the mostly volunteer ensemble among the state’s oldest.

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“Even I myself no longer have the luxury of practicing six to eight hours a day as I once did. But I would like for the orchestra to be even more cohesive.”

The 38-year-old Aerie, boasting a wealth of conducting experience in northern Indiana and elsewhere, showed his unifying efforts at the orchestra’s February concert tryout during a season in which five conductors vied for the post he won.

Violinist Laura Andrews, part of the search committee that selected Aerie, gushed about his ability when she considered his talent with the February concert.

“He worked with everyone while displaying very high standards, yet he was still very kind,” she said, emphasizing that such style is especially important with mostly volun- teer players.

“He was a stellar symphonic conductor and just extremely skilled. We all agreed that he presented the best concert.”

Not to mention one of the best-staffed ones, since he recruited about 20 fill-in musicians for the date — also important for the symphony.

She added that the Russian works he selected for his concert were “among the most challenging pieces we played all season.”

Aerie said such a situation with the repertoire was purposeful.

“I knew the material would be a stretch,” he said.

“It’s definitely hard stuff,” longtime cellist Virginia Rouse said.

“I think it builds confidence,” Aerie said. “A great repertoire is often challenging. And we’re doing some difficult things in the season.”

That includes Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in the opener and a 30-minute “Star Wars Suite,” which closes the season.

But after several rehearsals with the ensemble followed by the February performance, he believes the orchestra is up to the task.

“Part of that audition repertoire told me that. They sounded even better than I thought they would,” he said. “That was a wake-up call to me that we could do some serious stuff right off the bat. And now I believe we can build on that.”

Symphony leaders have long maintained that this ensemble is about more than mere entertainment. It also focuses on “providing opportunities (to all) to master the art of orchestral performance,” as symphony board president Christopher Clerc put it.

Toward that end, Aerie and other leaders still are recruiting new musicians for the season — and also new audience members, especially young families and children.

“I also want to build the diversity of our audience,” he said. “We obviously want to reach folks who already love music. And we want to reach people who are willing to say, ‘You know, I’m going to try this.’”

About conductor Josh Aerie

Age: 38.

Residence: South Bend.

Family: Wife, Melissa Berke, a professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences Department at the University of Notre Dame.

Current other roles: Executive director of The Music Village, an arts alliance and school in downtown South Bend. He is also director of the Elkhart County Youth Honors Orchestra program at Goshen College, performs and tours with the Sylvan Trio, and guest conducts frequently throughout the region. Recent appearances as guest conductor include the Elkhart Symphony, the University of Chicago Chamber Orchestra and the Notre Dame Symphony.

Venues he has performed in: Kennedy Center, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Tanglewood, Strathmore Hall, Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian museums.

Previous ensembles: Former music director of the Hyde Park Woodland Chamber Music Workshop in Chicago while leading other northern Indiana groups.

Previous nonperformance roles: Senior lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, where he taught cello and advanced ear training. He was also instructor of cello at the College of St. Scholastic in Duluth, Minnesota, and head of the music department at Mesabi Range Community and Technical College in Virginia, Minnesota.


About the season, 'The Journey Begins'

All concerts at 3:30 p.m. at The Commons unless indicated otherwise.

  • Oct. 4 — “Auspicious Beginnings,” with material including Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.
  • Nov. 22 — “O’er the Fields We Go” holiday concert including works by Leroy Anderson and Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5.
  • Feb. 28: “The People You Meet Along the Way,” including music from the movie “Frozen” and the theme from “The Pink Panther.”
  • April 10: “Death & Transfiguration,” including Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 45, Columbus North High School, 1400 25th St.
  • June 12: “Cleared for Launch!” including John Williams’ “E.T. Theme” and “Star Wars Suite.”

Tickets: $10 adults, $5 senior citizens and children 12 and older. Free admission for children younger than 12 accompanied by an adult.

Tickets may be purchased at the door or online at

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.