Da Capo: There and Back Again*


“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”—Mark Twain

A crazy week looms ahead: finals, commencement, and departure for a trip to London with the Utah Philharmonia Chamber Orchestra.  We are very excited to go, though in truth I wish I could take all 85 members of the Utah Phil.  They certainly all deserve to go, but money will always be tight for a trip of this type.  So, when the opportunity arose this year to take a smaller group, we decided on an ensemble comprised of our honor’s chamber music students.  This make-up helped plan the trip activities as well.  But why go to Europe at all?

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

I’ve traveled with students to Europe before (Austria, Germany, Denmark) and done some on my own for different “educational” engagements (Russia, Finland).  In America, we still look to Europe as the source of culture.  Even our iconic American composers (Copland, Gershwin, Bernstein) looked to Europe for study, inspiration and career advancement.  Europe holds the roots of much of the tradition, philosophy, art, literature and music that we admire and aspire towards.  Europe gave us Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Goethe, Voltaire, Michelangelo…no need to continue.  The list is impressively huge.

As classical musicians, Americans have long looked to Europe for inspiration, validation and training.  This has been true from the time we started building a tradition in this country.  The earliest American music aspirants came from or traveled to Europe to study (first Germany, later Paris and London).  And while imitation was often the result, establishing a classical music tradition in America is a legacy of our fascination with Europe.

Here are a few examples:

Anthony Phillip Heinrich (1781-1861) was known as the Beethoven of Kentucky. He was a German immigrant who is believed to have produced the first performance of a Beethoven symphony in the United States.  More important than his own compositions (many of which he composed in a log cabin) was the fact that he championed classical music performance in America.  He was the chair at the first meeting of the New York Philharmonic Society in 1842.  This nifty little band is one of the world’s finest orchestras today.

George Whitefield Chadwick (1854-1931) was one of a group of composers known as the Second New England School.  Like most of his generation, he traveled to Germany to study composition.  After his return, he was an influential teacher and was also the winner of a composition contest adjudicated by Antonin Dvorak in 1893.  But more importantly, in 1897 he became the Dean of the New England Conservatory of Music.  This organization continues today, a leading music school of international renown, one of many American music programs that lead the world in quality instruction.

Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) was a piano virtuoso and composer of international renown.  He was described by a San Francisco newspaper article as having: “travelled 95,000 miles by rail and given 1,000 concerts.” But interestingly, though a child prodigy, he was denied acceptance at age 13 to the Paris Conservatoire, rejected without an audition on the basis of his nationality.  As justification for rejecting his application, one piano faculty member stated: “America is a country of steam engines!”   (Through connections, Gottschalk did eventually gain admission).   While his compositions are interesting and filled with the diversity of his native New Orleans, it is his status as a performer that is remembered, first in a long list of American virtuosos.

So here we have three examples of Americans blazing a trail in classical music.  Three Americans who trace training and roots back to Europe.   They helped establish traditions and institutions in the U.S. that set a new high bar of excellence for the art form.  Today, European musicians travel to America to study, perform, compose and establish careers on our fertile soil.  The tradition has been cultivated and enriched.  The highway of classical music indeed has traffic traveling in both directions.

Back to the present, our trip to London will include master classes at the Royal Academy of Music , LSO St. Lukes, and with leading London musicians.  We will attend and also perform in concerts.  The program for our performances is heavy on the European/British repertoire (Handel, Geminiani, Grieg), but is also sprinkled with gems from the New World (Gershwin, Copland, Joplin, Piazolla).  The stream is indeed traveling in both directions.

 “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.“ – T.S Eliot

And like those early musical pioneers, we will undoubtedly bring things back to share.  Though the “entyre merry bande” is not traveling with us, this trip represents and validates the journey of the full Utah Philharmonia.  The chamber orchestra is honored to represent the entire ensemble, University of Utah School of Music and the United States of America, but even happier to bring our experiences and learning back with us, providing enrichment for many years to come here in Utah and wherever our journey may take us.

*A Da Vinci Code Quiz: Did you pick up on the reference between the title and accompanying music? But that is another story…

Copyright, 2012 Robert Baldwin


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