On Sunday, Oct. 16, the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir will return to Carnegie Hall for its first performance at the Seventh Avenue venue in nearly 40 years. One of the nation’s most established and dynamic musical institutions, the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir is currently in the midst of its 80th anniversary season. Its volunteer singers — which number around 200 — are committed each season to a 44-week run.
Supporters of original music, the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir commissioned New York composer Mohammed Fairouz to compose a new oratorio. The oratorio, Zabur, was first performed in Indiana in April 2015. The Indianapolis Symphonic Choir’s Oct. 16 event at Carnegie Hall will feature the New York premiere of Zabur.
Downtown had the pleasure of talking with the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir’s Artistic Director, Eric Stark. Eric is no stranger to New York or Carnegie Hall, which was uncovered in our Q&A. Beyond his musical pursuits, Eric is a pilot and is involved with the wonderful Angel Flight organization.
For more on the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, visit www.indychoir.org.
You first conducted at Carnegie Hall in 2002. What do you remember about that experience?
Eric Stark: I remember how thrilling it felt to walk on out that stage to the conductor’s podium…thinking of how all the world’s major conductors have walked that same path, and stood at that very spot. It was thrilling and scary to think of the 100+ years of musical history!
Had you been to New York prior to conducting at Carnegie Hall?
ES: Yes, many times. Family trips, trips with friends, attending concerts, The Met, Broadway…the museums, wonderful food. We are basketball fans in my state, Indiana, and so when Purdue played in the NIT championship games when I was a child, my grandfather brought the whole family to New York City for a week to see the games and experience the big city. We hit all the landmarks: United Nations, Statue of Liberty, FAO Schwarz toystore — R.I.P.! — my first subway ride…It was an amazing experience for a 12-year old kid from Columbus, indiana.
Is performing in New York different for you than it is elsewhere?
ES: It is. It feels like going to the musical version of Mount Olympus. Our musical gods lived, worked, performed and made history in New York. The world knows the United States through New York City. It’s a platform for music making that serves a universal audience.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York City?
ES: So many great restaurants, and the fun is finding new ones each trip. But an old stand-by has to be Artisanal Bistro at 32nd and Park. Last time I was there, we were seated in the private dining room surrounded by the cheese vault. Incredible!
Anywhere you hope to go while in New York if you have some free time?
ES: I always go to Central Park for a run. The beautiful views and the feeling of working out with so many New Yorkers is invigorating.
What can you tell me about your upcoming event at Carnegie Hall on Oct. 16?
ES: We are very proud to be giving the New York City premiere of a work we commissioned from New York composer Mohammed Fairouz. Zabur is dramatic, beautiful and heart breaking, but conveys a powerful message of hope we are eager to share with new audiences.
How did you first start working with the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir?
ES: When I began doctoral studies in choral conducting at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, I began singing with the symphonic choir — my conducting teacher was the artistic director at the time. I fell in love with the repertoire immediately, choral-symphonic music has the power to change lives and bring people together. 15 years ago, they asked me to become artistic director and I felt like I had won the lottery.
Have you worked with the New York City-based Mimesis Ensemble orchestra before?
ES: This will be the first time. But I know they have worked with our composer, New Yorker Mohammed Fairouz, on numerous projects previously.
What is coming up for you after this event on Oct. 16?
ES: We are celebrating our 80th season this year, so we have a number of blockbuster concerts. Five performances of our holiday festival of carols — with Grammy winner Sylvia McNair — Messiah, Elijah, Brahms Requiem, Chichester Psalms and Carmina Burana. We are calling it our “top 40 greatest choral hits” season!
For a New Yorker that has not been to Indianapolis before, what are some of the “must go” places?
ES: White River Park, with miles of river and canal sidewalks, where you can visit the award-winning Indianapolis Zoo, the Indiana State Museum, the Eitejorg Museum of Native American Art and take in a ballgame at our beautiful Victory Field Ballpark or see the Colts at nearby Lucas Oil Stadium. The Indianapolis Museum of Art has a celebrated collection of Asian works, and if the weather is nice, the 100-acre park is just beautiful. Our close musical partners, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, are guaranteed to entertain when you visit them for a concert too. Of course, in May, you need to spend some time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the “greatest spectacle in racing”: The Indy 500!
What do you like to do in your free time when not working on and within music?
ES: I love hiking, travel and I’m a private pilot, so I love to fly. In fact, I’m a volunteer pilot with Angel Flight, a non-profit organization that provides free air transport to those with medical need.
Do you have a favorite album of 2016?
ES: My Pandora subscription is a crazy mix of stuff…Classical of course, but also old favorites like Prince, Paul Simon, Annie Lennox, Harry Connick Jr., Robin Thicke, kd lang, Stephen Sondheim and Tom Jobim.
Finally, Eric, any last words for the kids?
ES: We look forward to meeting your readers in New York, and I hope to be able to greet you after our performance in Carnegie Hall!