The Winds of Programming Change

Olaus Magnus Historia om de nordiska folken

Off the podium, orchestral programming is one of the most rewarding and challenging activities that I do. (See my link of concerts on this blog to view the whole shebang) Given the recent national conversation regarding diversity (or lack thereof) in orchestral programming, I thought it prudent to look at my own programming for next year with three of the orchestras for which I have the responsibility of programming: the Salt Lake Symphony, Sinfonia Salt Lake, and the University of Utah Philharmonia. I’ve only included “classics” concerts. Excluded are pops, family concerts and the like, as that would greatly skew the “living composer ”category. It’s also hard to determine for certain concerts where some pieces are quite short—for example the December 6 concert with Monika Jalili, which will include songs by Iranian composers, as each song is only about 3 minutes in length. How does one compare that to a larger work? So for the sake of not appearing to “cook the books,” I’ve combined all of those songs into one category, counting them as a value of “one composer.” So here’s the score, out of 44 pieces programmed on classics concerts between 3 orchestras:

Composers of color: 5

Silvestre Revueltas, Shalan Alhamwy, Mohammed Fairouz, Banned Iranian songwriters, Saad Haddad

 

Women composers: 5

Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Stacy Garrop, Fanny Mendelssohn, Mary Lou Prince, Alexandra Pakhmutova

 

Living composers: 13

Arvo Pärt, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Henry Wolking, Devin Maxwell, Nathaniel Eschler, Stacy Garrop, Mary Lou Prince, Alexandra Pakhmutova, Banned Iranian Composers (some?), +4 Composers for the Utah Arts Festival Commissioning Concert

While trying to program an engaging concert experience is my first goal, I do try my best to react correctly to the changing tides. I’ve no idea if this is a “good average” or not, but based on number of concerts, it appears to be more diverse than both the Cleveland Orchestra and Chicago Symphony, both of which had scathing articles (here and here) written earlier this year regarding their programming. (No judgment and not gloating, it’s just a statement of fact). Orchestral programming is exceptionally difficult to balance, considering the weight of the history of the repertoire. No other ensemble relies as much on the past as do orchestras. And therein lies part of the challenge.

So, what do the readers think? Does it look like a good average? And how will audiences respond? That is certainly a question to be answered from the seats next season, and perhaps from the box office in following years. I, for one, remain confident it is a direction we must take.

Feel free to make respectful comments below.

Copyright, 2018. Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat

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Concerts with Conscience

Sinfonia may 2016

I am privileged to be the music director of a fledgling professional chamber orchestra, Sinfonia Salt Lake, made up of some of the finest freelance talent in the region. Our concert last night, our second concert ever, was a resounding artistic success.

After a hellacious week of concert preparations, radio interviews, rehearsals, last minute emergencies and constant worries about finances, Sinfonia Salt Lake performed an energetic and refined program (Handel, Haydn, Purcell and Walton) with aplomb. We’ve happily discovered a superb acoustic at the historic First United Methodist Church in downtown Salt Lake City. Yet we performed to what a critic might refer to as a “small but enthusiastic audience.” You can interchange many adjectives for “enthusiastic:” appreciative, enraptured, attentive…but small is small. Quite simply, we had hoped for a much larger crowd.

“Small, but appreciative” doesn’t pay the bills, and yet something perhaps more important almost went by without notice last night.

Last night’s Sinfonia Salt Lake concert had four young visitors who rode their bikes 40 blocks from South Salt Lake to attend our performance.  They were students from the Utah International Charter School, where we performed a school program last week and offered the students free admission for our concert.  Part of our mission as an ensemble is to reach beyond the concert hall and into the community for every concert by partnering with underserved populations and community charities. This particular school teaches a diverse community of children largely from immigrant and refugee families. These four youngsters were so enthused by our contact with them, a mere 45 minutes with live music and musicians, that they traveled 7 miles by bicycle to attend the concert.  They had to leave at intermission so they could get home before it got dark. They still had to ride 40 blocks to get home!

I’ll wager those kids made more personal investment that anyone else in the audience in order to attend our concert. And while we spent a lot of time beating the bushes and pulling our hair out trying to find the money for this concert, our investment in these kids may matter more in the long run. Yes, we need bigger audiences and donations to keep our ensemble afloat. But this type of story is one that reminds us of the greater purpose of being an artist. It is also something that we can use to illustrate how we as musicians can make a difference in the community.

So while we continue to fret about finances, even as we excitedly announce our next season, this provided a good perspective for what we can achieve beyond the notes on the page. Among all of the little details and stresses, it is nice to know there is something intangibly beautiful about what we do.

 

Leslie and friend Charter school

Picture: Sinfonia Concertmaster, Leslie Henrie with a new friend from our school concert

Information (and a donation button!) can be found on our website. Please consider spreading the word of our group and consider making a donation if desired and able. We really appreciate it!

www.sinfoniasaltlake.com

 

Sinfonia-12

Sinfonia Salt Lake’s mission is to provide professional quality classical music concerts with a community conscience. In addition to providing professional quality chamber orchestra concerts in various historic locales around the Salt Lake Valley, the ensemble has a unique mission to connect with the community for every concert by partnering with underserved populations and community charities. Collaborations have included the Utah Food Bank, and for this concert, the Utah International Charter School, a school serving largely children from immigrant and refugee families.

And if you are in the area, consider attending our concerts next season! You’ll be glad you did!

Sinfonia Salt Lake 2016-2017 Season

September 12: Italian Inspirations

  • Respighi: Ancient Airs and Dances No 3
  • Mozart: Exsultate Jubilate (Melissa Heath, soprano)
  • Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence

October 10: Towards the Dark Side…

  • Boccherini: Symphony No. 6, La Casa del Diavolo
  • Hermann: Suite from Psycho
  • Schubert/Mahler: Death and the Maiden

December 3: Amahl and the Night Visitors with Utah Lyric Opera Ensemble

  • Menotti: Amahl and the Night Visitors

January 16: MLK Day Concert. The Voices of America. Guest speaker TBA

  • Gould: Spirituals for Strings
  • Edward Reichel: Night Echoes, World Premiere written for Sinfonia Salt Lake!
  • Walker: Lyric for Strings
    Copland: Appalachian Spring (original 13-instrument version)

March 13 (DATE yet to be confirmed) Vivaldi in the Ospedale: A New Concert Experience. Narrator/Actors/Dancers, TBA.

  • Vivaldi: Concerti with Sinfonia players
  • Hohnstein: Night in the Ospedale

May 15: A Mozart Family Affair. Gerald Elias, guest conductor

  • Selections include a Sinfonia by Leopold Mozart, a Piano Concerto by Franz Xavier Mozart , and a Symphony by WA Mozart

June 24: Utah Arts Festival, Composers Chamber Commission Concert

 

Copyright 2016, Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat