Before he ever raised the baton as the Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s new music director in 2015, Josh Aerie wanted to raise the profile of the mostly volunteer ensemble.
He wanted to recruit more players, especially for the strings section. He wanted to more directly encourage young musicians, and he wanted to further diversify the ensemble’s programming.
Now, eight years later, before his final performance with the local symphony at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at The Commons, he looked back to take stock of his goals when he assumed the post — one previously held by Roger Kalia, now leading the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra, Symphony New Hampshire and Orchestra Santa Monica.
“I’m proud of our Annual Composition Competition,” the 46-year-old Aerie said, speaking from his South Bend home and mentioning that this year’s version attracted 150 applicants worldwide. “That and the Youth Concerto Competition are two things I worked with our board of directors to institute. It’s been wonderful to see those projects grow.
“And this creates future opportunities for the orchestra as a whole to continue to grow and also to foster new music and encourage young composers while being at the vanguard of new music in a really special way.”
Sunday’s event, “100 Years of Great Music,” caps an entire season of the centennial of the ensemble believed to be the state’s oldest.
Indianapolis resident Philip Palermo, the symphony’s concertmaster and a friend of Aerie’s, has been impressed with how Aerie’s personable way with musicians has allowed him to recruit more string players, a common need with a nonprofessional orchestra comprised of professionals knee-deep in other fields.
“That’s what really won him the job in the first place,” Palermo said. “He was really able to cultivate a very sensitive strings sound, especially in a volunteer orchestra, where you understandably can never be sure who can be there (at rehearsals) every week. He just really cultivated the sweeter, or more dulce aspects of string playing.”
In recent years, to help Aerie relax a bit before and after rehearsal trips to Columbus from South Bend, Palermo would have Aerie stop en route at Palermo’s Indianapolis home. Palermo would then drive the pair from Indy the remaining distance to Columbus for practice at the Central Middle School band room.
Round trip, it spared Aerie two hours to focus more on upcoming music. Aerie waved away any praise for much of his impact locally.
“I’ve been privileged to work with other ensembles and had a chance before I came to Columbus to see what programs work and what does not,” Aerie said.
Sunday’s work from composition winner Austin Ali of Los Angeles is titled “The Beginner’s Guide to Space Travel,” an upbeat piece that the conductor is sure the audience will love.
“It is really a blast — no pun intended,” Aerie said. “It’s full of little musical jokes and quirks. When you hear it, you can just imagine hurtling through space, and seeing all sorts of strange things.”
Also on the program are pieces such as Felix Mendelssohn’s “Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage,” which seems fitting given Aerie’s voyage into a new future. Plus, there will be Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo” presented in three movements instead of the traditional four. Both those pieces are from orchestra members’ favorites selected especially for the centennial season.
Meanwhile, a new season of life awaits Aerie. He plans to travel more with with the Sylvan Trio with whom he has played cello for several years all over the country.
“It’s always important to stretch our horizons,” he said.
He was referring more to orchestras. Yet, such wisdom seems to fit nicely for transitioning conductors, too.
About the concert
Who: Columbus Symphony Orchestra Music Director Josh Aerie’s farewell concert.
When: Guest chamber ensemble preconcert performance at 3 p.m. Sunday featuring Astor Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.” Symphony concert at 3:30 p.m. Violin and cello duets with Josh Aerie and Philip Palermo during intermission.
Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St. in downtown Columbus.