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Roger Kalia is the newly appointed Music Director of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra of Indiana. He is the fourth music director since the orchestraís founding in 1922. In addition, Kalia is currently a Doctoral Conducting Fellow at Indiana Universityís Jacobs School of Music, where he serves as an Associate Instructor in the Orchestral Conducting Department and studies with David Effron and Arthur Fagen. From 2009 to 2010, Kalia served as the assistant conductor of the IU New Music Ensemble.
The oldest symphony in Indiana will kick off its 90th anniversary season Sunday with a concert titled “Planet Earth” at the Judson Erne Auditorium in Columbus North High School.
This will mark music director Roger Kalia’s third year at the conductor’s podium leading the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, an all-volunteer orchestra founded by Chester Kitzinger in 1922.
“I challenge them with standard orchestral repertoire that professionals play rather than arrangements of pieces that so many community groups perform,” Kalia said. “They always step up to the challenge, and that is extremely satisfying for everyone involved.”
Sunday’s program will include Jean Sibelius’ “Finlanda,” Alexander Borodin’s “The Steppes of Central Asia” and Ottorino Respighi’s “Pines of Rome.” The pieces will be accompanied by a multimedia presentation of the locations depicted in the music.
Highlights of the remainder of the season include a holiday concert featuring Kathy Dell’s Parkside Elementary School choir; violinist Emma Peters, a Columbus North High School grad currently studying at University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music; and tenor Andrew Lunsford, currently studying at Indiana University.
New York native Kalia was wrapping up his master’s degree in orchestral conducting at the University of Houston and preparing to begin pursuing his doctorate at Indiana University when he heard that CSO was looking for a new conductor.
“I was really attracted to the process of growth,” said Kalia, whose bachelor’s degree is in music education. “With a community orchestra, you are more of a teacher, or a mentor, than just a conductor.”
Growth has been seen not only in the musicians’ skill but in the orchestra itself.
By the time Kalia came on board, the orchestra had dwindled to about a dozen musicians. Over the past three years, membership has swelled to between 30 and 35, thanks to Kalia’s relentless recruitment.
“They do it for the love of the music,” Kalia said, adding that most of the musicians maintain professional careers completely removed from music.
Cellist Virginia Rouse, who has been affiliated with the orchestra since the 1960s, said the community-focused orchestra provides a valuable outlet for working adults who want to keep music in their lives but also for youth, particularly home-schooled children, eager for a performing outlet.
“It brings quality, locally produced music to our community,” Rouse said.
The CSO debuted in 1922 at the Crump Theatre. Over the next 32 years, the orchestra performed 46 concerts. The group temporarily disbanded from 1954 to 1970, though Kitzinger continued conducting a smaller ensemble known as The Singing Strings.
The orchestra resumed performing in the fall of 1970, this time with Dale Spurlock at the podium. Kitzinger, who was named conductor emeritus, attended every concert until his death in 1977.
The orchestra grew steadily over the next two decades, topping out at more than 75 musicians. In the late 1980s, the orchestra fell on hard times when it split from parent organization Columbus Pro Musica and declared its independence, determined to retain the community flavor Kitzinger had conceived more than 60 years before. So the show went on, even on a meager, $2,500 annual budget.
Though money remains tight, Kalia said he is determined to continue growing the orchestra and challenging the musicians to be the best they can be.
Rouse also performs with the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic but says she remains dedicated to CSO.
“I wouldn’t desert it,” she said. “I want to see it continue.”
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