The only conductor in the 34-year history of the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic and the face of the organization since its inception plans to retire in May 2022.
David Bowden, who turned 67 on Sunday, made the announcement at Monday evening’s Philharmonic board meeting.
He said he went public with his plans now to give the staff and board ample time to decide how to fill his artistic director role — one that in recent years has expanded substantially.
Besides musical orchestral concert programming and leading the Philharmonic Chorus, his responsibilities often include working with artists for the orchestra’s hugely popular Cabaret at The Commons, some elements of marketing, supporting his passion of the orchestra’s music education programs, and more.
[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]
When Bowden was hired, he was teaching music theory at the prestigious Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, working on a doctorate, and serving as minister of music at a Bloomington church.
He also serves as artistic director and conductor of the Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra, a role that he will continue. He also previously served for 17 years as conductor and artistic director of the Carmel Symphony Orchestra.
With his coming retirement will be the retirement of his orchestral teammate, wife Donna Bowden, who serves as Philharmonic personnel director, and formerly had a lengthy career as a nurse. He said the pair plan to do more traveling.
“The honest truth is that I am (purposely) slowing down,” said Bowden, whose energy has long been the subject of staffers’ humorous stories such as sharing bursts of ideas in late-night calls. “And 35 years is a long time to do one thing.”
But he is effusive in his gratitude for being able to lead an organization that has grown exponentially under his watch, earned five national programming awards and performed with some of the top-tier orchestral talent not only in the country, but the world. Those artists include people such as violinist Cho-Liang Lin, pianist Andre Watts, flutist Carol Wincenc, Grammy winning vocalist Sylvia McNair, and others.
McNair, a friend of Bowden’s since their college days at Wheaton College Conservatory of Music near Chicago, has said more than once in interviews that Bowden’s skill and expertise was on par with conductors of major symphonies around the country. That is significant since she has performed with the largest ensembles worldwide.
He also has been known for spotting and booking rising young artists, such as vocalist Angela Brown, before they became a household name on the major metro orchestral circuit.
“The passion and level of expertise David brings to his role as artistic director is exceptional,” said Melissa Fairbanks, Philharmonic board president. “The CIP will be forever grateful for his commitment to partner with our community to build a world-class Philharmonic.”
He has been a key in building an orchestra through painful budget cuts, including being willing to slice his own salary, and other challenges such as sensitive contract differences with some of the musicians years ago.
Philharmonic principal flutist Kathy Dell has been with Bowden and the orchestra since the first concert before 645 people and a standing ovation with what was then known as Columbus Pro Musica on Sept. 19, 1987.
“I think maybe the biggest impact he has had is just being able to carry pout the vision that he had when he was first hired,” said Dell, who also has served as personnel manager at one time and office volunteer in the early days.
Dell said that includes establishing “a phenomenal music education program” (now led by Vanessa Edwards) in every local school and also at the Foundation for Youth. Bowden often talked about music education from his first year with the Philharmonic. Speakers from a range of other music ensembles statewide have spoken at events such as the Philharmonic’s annual meetings and praised the program as innovative — and much larger than other midsize orchestras.
Dell mentioned that, all told, Bowden’s impact stretches far beyond the concert hall.
“I think what he actually has done is improve the overall quality of life in Columbus,” she said.
In fact, a number of managers and executives who have come to work in Columbus over the years have cited the Philharmonic, and a Philharmonic concert, as a significant recruiting tool to help bring them to town.
Bowden, who lives in Bloomington, said he always has seen his role beyond just the concert stage, anyway.
“There are people who choose to invest in a community — not just a career,” Bowden said. “And the Columbus community won me over.”
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”About David Bowden” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
Born: Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Lives: in Bloomington
Family: Wife Donna; daughters, Kirsten and Kristi; five grandchildren
Roles: Artistic director of the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic. Artistic director of the Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra since 1997. Formerly artistic director of the Carmel Symphony Orchestra for 17 years.