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Butler Magazine

Still in Crescendo: Matthew Kraemer ’99

Matthew Kraemer

By Cindy Conover Dashnaw

By the time Matthew Kraemer ’99 steps onto the podium to conduct an Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra performance, he may have spent a year learning the music the audience will hear just once. But you’d never know it.

“It should look easy at the concert,” said Kraemer, Butler’s Music Director and Principal Conductor of the ICO. “The rehearsal process is where the work is done.”

“Work,” indeed. Musicians first see a musical arrangement about three weeks ahead of a concert date. By then, Kraemer will have spent months becoming thoroughly familiar with every part of the piece and understanding what he wants to get from the music.

“There are many different ways to interpret a piece of music. My responsibility is to come in with a clear conception of what I want, and identify and resolve any problems that arise,” Kraemer said.

The process is the same with classical music or a piece that’s brand-new.

“We do Messiah each year. Orchestras have played it for hundreds of years, but music is alive even if the piece is 200 years old. It’s our responsibility as performers to inject life into it and make it fresh and exciting.”

Kraemer said the role of a musical director is to balance what people expect to hear with new music they will enjoy hearing.

“I use the analogy of going to the same restaurant all the time. You can keep ordering the same dish you know you love, but you’re probably missing a lot more that you’d also enjoy,” he said. “Did you know that 1 percent of composers make up 90 percent of programs? I want people to identify with a piece on the program and buy tickets, of course, but I also want them to walk away having discovered something new.”

Kraemer likes to introduce new music using a theme that unites known and unknown composers.

“We’re working harder than ever to attract a younger audience and people from different career backgrounds. We’re not going to change our core values, our mission, but we’re going to try to provide something everyone can enjoy. We’re constantly evolving,” he said.

A Change in Tempo

A personal evolution brought Kraemer to the baton.

“It happened here at Butler,” he said. “I was studying to be a violin performance major, and I became interested in studying how all the instruments played together. So I basically bribed my friends with pizza to form an orchestra I could practice leading. It was meant to broaden my musical understanding, but I caught the conducting bug.”

After graduation, he went on to lead orchestras in Pennsylvania, Virginia and New York, guest-conducted many of the nation’s finest orchestras, and led symphonies and philharmonics in Canada and Europe. The Richmond, Ind., native returned to Butler in March 2015 because of the strength and potential he saw in the chamber orchestra.

“The ICO is a gem in the cultural life of this city, and I want to expand our brand recognition. My vision is that we’ll have an even deeper connection in the cultural life of Indianapolis than we already do, be even more of a collaborator, and launch even more initiatives that put us on the cutting edge.”