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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Continuing the Dream with Music

I’m doing something outside of the box this weekend for an orchestra concert.  Allow me to ellaborate…

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The holiday weekend looms with tributes and speeches celebrating one of the greatest and most influential speakers of the 20th century, Martin Luther King, Jr.  MLK weekend is a wonderful observation, one that encourages reflection on where we have been, where we are, and just how far we have yet to go as an American people.

But as we look ahead to a weekend of speeches, marches and remembrances, we should also remember that the March on Washington and other civil rights events were also filled with music: the music of hope, longing, suffering, and joy.  This music, along with the poetry and literature of African Americans may be the initial impetus for change, one that became an accessible influence for people at far greater numbers than all the speeches, laws or social theories.  Dr. King may have been at the head of this locomotive of change, but music and poetry were vital fuel for the engine.

Here is a link to a New Yorker story from last year (with videos) regarding the importance of music during the March on Washington:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2013/08/dream-songs-the-music-of-the-march-on-washington.html

In fact, I will posit that it was the music and poetry of African-Americans that began this train rolling along, decades before real social change occurred.  The poetry of the Harlem Renaissance and the music of gospel, ragtime, blues and jazz was extremely popular across racial boundaries, representing the first foray of a large number of white Americans towards diversity.  As migration moved up the Mississippi to the major urban centers, the backyard of Mark Twain’s America was populated with new voices for artistic expression.  The music and poetry spoke with universal truths to which all could relate

I, as a white American, can truly “feel” the heartache of the Blues, just as I can experience the fear of isolation expressed in a James Baldwin poem or the freedom and joy of an early jazz dance tune.  The syntax may be expressed through a culture not my own, but in the hands of a great artist, the meaning cuts through.  We can all find a deep personal meaning in an American Spiritual just as easily as from Beethoven’s 9th or the King James Bible, if we allow ourselves the permission to look.  And if we find meaning, then it also becomes ours, collectively

I was an infant when the March on Washington occurred, and although I don’t remember it, I nonetheless grew up with the legacy of the event.  Dr. King’s speech was taught in school along with the entire Civil Rights Movement.  But I also grew up with the legacy of music.  Much of the music we listened to in the 1960s and 70s was but a short putt from whence it came.  Not only R&B and Soul, but also Disco, which represented the upward mobility of a rapidly growing diverse middle class.  And while none of this excuses or ignores racism and the continuing struggle for equality, it does give hope that what is really important is much closer than we think.

So in this context, an orchestra concert may not be as out of the ordinary as it first appears.  Using poetry and music the evening will be an expression of humanity through poetry and music.  It has been an honor and joy to develop this hour-long program for the evening.

MLK Day Celebration Concert: Utah Philharmonia and Friends

Monday, January 20, 2014, 7:30 p.m.; Libby Gardner Concert Hall

Daniel Tuutau, guest speaker; Ubeeng Kueq, piano; U Ambassadors Jazz Combo

Adults $10 Students/Seniors/U Faculty & Staff $6/Arts Pass

Program:

He Had His Dream                                                    Paul Lawrence Dunbar

Three Black Kings: I. King of the Magi                     Duke Ellington

A Dream Deferred                                                     Langston Hughes

Maple Leaf Rag                                                        Scott Joplin

Three Black Kings: II. King Solomon                        Duke Ellington

Some Days                                                               James Baldwin

I Have a Dream                                                        Herbie Hancock, arr. R. Schmidt

Danzas de Panama: !V. Cumbia y Congo                William Grant Still

Equality                                                                     Maya Angelou

Three Black Kings: III. Dr. Martin Luther King          Duke Ellington

http://music.utah.edu/events/index.php?trumbaEmbed=eventid%3D108222647%26view%3Devent%26-childview%3D

Copyright, 2014. Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat.