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Conductor Comes Home

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It seems that Erik Ochsner was always destined to perform at Clowes Hall.

Growing up in Danville, Ind., Ochsner (pronounced Ox-ner) spent his Saturdays riding back and forth to Butler University for youth orchestra rehearsal. From 1985 to 1989, he was a member of the Greater Indianapolis Youth Symphony Orchestra, which regularly performed at Clowes.

Ochsner spent much of his childhood practicing and performing in Clowes Hall.
  • Ochsner spent much of his childhood practicing and performing in Clowes Hall.

Not only did Ochsner practice and perform there, he also regularly attended shows. Ochsner's godfather and close family friend, Erich Kunzel, was the pops music director of the ISO from 1982-2002. "I used to go to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra concerts there, and pops concerts," he says. "I saw my first opera there, and I was performing at Clowes as well."

And in middle school, he even had dinner (butternut squash soup in a butternut squash bowl--he still remembers to this day) with Allen Clowes at Ochsner's headmaster's house. "To actually meet a member of the [Clowes] family, he was like royalty to me," he says.

Now 42 years old and musical royalty himself, as the founder and music director for the New York-based SONOS Chamber Orchestra, Ochsner will once again take the stage at Clowes. On Sunday, Oct. 27, at 2 p.m., the Indiana native will direct the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in Pixar in Concert, part of Clowes Hall's 50th Anniversary Celebration.

The performance hall opened Oct. 18, 1963, during a weekend of celebration that included shows by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Captain Kangaroo, and Bob Hope. They kicked off the incredible 1963-64 premiere season, which was planned using a market research study of Indianapolis and neighboring-city residents. It was one of the first-ever studies of its kind. A $3.5 million venture, Clowes was built in honor of Dr. George Henry Alexander Clowes, a research scientist at Eli Lilly and Co. and a patron of the Indianapolis arts.

Fast forward 50 years, 9 million visitors and 10,000 shows later, and Indianapolis continues celebrating Clowes and its legacy. To commemorate its golden anniversary, festivities begin Oct. 24, with performances by Mark O'Connor with the Butler University Symphony Orchestra, and then the Jazz Ensemble, the Percussion Ensemble and the Butler Ballet. Other events include a concert by ColbieCaillat and Kenny Loggins and a performance by Whoopi Goldberg. To round out this special week, Ochsner will conduct Pixar in Concert.

Comprised of moments from all 13 of Pixar's feature films, Pixar in Concert entertains as a clip show in which scenes from the famous animated movies are projected on a screen. There are no sound effects, and there is no dialogue. Instead, the symphony orchestra will provide the soundtrack, putting into music the sound effects, while reminding the audience what the scene was about, even without a single line of dialogue.

Erik Ochsner conducts the Iceland Symphony Orchestra in Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings Symphony in February 2012.
  • Erik Ochsner conducts the Iceland Symphony Orchestra in Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings Symphony in February 2012.

In Pixar in Concert, "they're not exactly synchronized as seen together in the original movies, but put together to remind people how wonderful the music, as well as the animation, is with these Pixar movies," Ochsner says.

This won't be the first time Ochsner has graced the stage at Clowes as an adult. He also directed a live-to-projection version of The Pirates of the Caribbean there last year. "It was just totally coming full circle," he says. "It was really fun for me to reconnect with people in the orchestra. And I told the orchestra, 'I recognize so many of your faces, because I was sitting in the audience watching you.' There are still many people who play in the orchestra who played when I was a youngster."

During The Pirates of the Caribbean, Ochsner was even given Erich Kunzel's former dressing room in Clowes. "It was a little bit bittersweet, but I was also proud of the fact that this is what I've been able to achieve so far," he says. "Now, I'm the maestro."

As a child, "Clowes was my Mecca, my dream palace. It was my hall," Ochsner says, adding that his knowledge of the place also came with a sense of responsibility. Because he was so familiar with its ins and outs, if asked, Ochsner would direct visitors to the bathrooms or concession areas.

For many audience members who may be new to the symphony orchestra, Ochsner hopes that one ticket to Pixar in Concert will lead to a lifetime of music.

"My end-all goal is we get 75 percent of audiences that are coming have never seen a symphony orchestra before, and 50 percent will say, 'Well, I want to go back. What else is Clowes Hall programming this year?'" Ochsner says. "And even if it means that person never comes back to a Beethoven symphony, we did affect them one night. We touched them once."

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