THSO's Bowden retiring after 28 years

Mar. 19—After leading the Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra for the past 28 years, artistic director and conductor David Bowden announced Tuesday morning that he will be retiring after the 2024-25 season.

He also announced his replacement — his counterpart in Evansville, Roger Kalia.

Bowden's last day in his role will be June 30, 2025, and Kalia's first day will be July 1, the THSO shared in a news conference at the Vigo County History Center.

Kalia's first season will be the 2025-26 season; 2026 will mark the symphony orchestra's 100th anniversary.

"I love this organization," Bowden, 70, told those assembled, adding, "I love our audiences — they cheer and whistle."

"You don't get that typically in a concert hall," agreed Kalia, 39, whose title with the symphony is now artistic director-designate. "That's what we live for."

The THSO felt no need for a search process for Bowden's replacement. Kalia stood in for Bowden when the local maestro had a conflict in November 2022. Kalia, Bowden explained, "wowed the audience," as well as the musicians and the orchestra's board of directors.

"He covered for me and the musicians loved him, and the board came up with the idea for hiring him," Bowden said after the announcement. "We've kept it confidential since September — it's been that long and here he is. I can't tell you how thrilled I am to have somebody of his capabilities and his personality to be able to follow me."

At the time, Kalia didn't realize his 2022 appearance was an audition.

"I had no idea," he said with a laugh. "David had a family conflict and he reached out and said, 'Hey, Roger, are you available to conduct?' And sure enough, it happened to be a date I was available, because I'm very busy."

Kalia added, "It was just a few weeks before the concert. I had to learn the repertoire very quickly and it was a marvelous experience. The musicians were wonderful. ... I'm definitely looking forward to learning more about Terre Haute now, because I've been here twice."

In addition to Evansville, Kalia is also music director for Symphony New Hampshire and Orchestra Santa Monica. When he assumes the artistic director position in Terre Haute, he will leave the New Hampshire organization.

While making his announcement, Bowden called the adventure concerts the orchestra performs annually for local fourth graders the "most important work" he has performed as artistic director.

Since joining the orchestra in 1997, Bowden has led his musicians in performances before 50,000 students. The next adventure concerts will be April 9.

Terre Haute Mayor Brandon Sakbun said that all of those adventure concerts "cannot go forgotten. Community arts is a strong pillar in our community."

Under Kalia's watch, adventure concerts will remain a priority.

"Music education's extremely important — I'm a product of public school music education," he said. "It's all about engaging the kids. I look forward to the adventure concerts and really becoming a part of not only the orchestra but also the community and getting out into the schools and doing clinics and rehearsals and Q&A's.

"That's so important to do as a conductor, because you're really a cultural ambassador, not just a music director."

Kalia led Evansville's Young People's Concert last week, conducting the "Star Wars" theme with a light saber. He was inspired to study and perform music after taking in a New York Philharmonic rehearsal as a kid.

Kalia's wife, Christine Wisch, is a violinist and music historian who teaches at Indiana University.

Back in 2017, there was almost no orchestra in Terre Haute to lead when the board of directors voted to basically dissolve the THSO.

"I said I would not accept that and if they would let me do some of the work, I would take over the executive director role and I did that for almost three years," Bowden recalled. "I got people involved and they helped and we're here now. And we've got a good reserve fund in place; we're in a very good place. We're flourishing."

The Terre Haute Symphony Association Board of Directors has bestowed Bowden with the title of THSO Conductor Laureate and Principal Guest Conductor upon his retirement.

David Kronke can be reached at 812-231-4232 or at david.kronke@tribstar.com.