The Sands of Time: Music from the Middle East in Concert with the Utah Philharmonia

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The Stars Align.

There’s a very exciting concert ahead. I’ve been asked: Just how did this concert ever come to exist? Here’s the story:

Back in 2010, I received an unsolicited visit from Monika Jalili, a singer of Iranian/Persian music about having the School of Music donate space for a concert. Instead of a single act of charity, it was apparent that there was an opportunity to do something more. As Monika and I talked, it became clear that instead of a small ensemble concert, a more exciting collaboration might take place with orchestra. Those discussions led to a performance in 2013 with the Salt Lake Symphony of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade with Monika and her ensemble filling in between movements with traditional and popular music from the Middle East. We only had one music chart for orchestra to play along with her group back then, but even still, it was a great success. We all left the performance knowing that a future collaboration was possible sometime in the future.

Fast forward to this year, and thanks to Monika’s work getting the UofU Middle East Center onboard, and my securing a teaching grant, this concert is now a reality. The University of Utah Philharmonia will present this concert of music from the Middle East, by composers with Middle Eastern connections. (The only exception being Respighi’s Belkis: Queen of Sheba Suite, which has nonetheless has a historical and sonic roots firmly rooted there). Other music on the program includes a piece by Shalan Alhamwy, a Syrian refugee, titled Two Images from Aleppo (Thanks to my former student Mindi Davis-Loewen for introducing me to Shalan and his music); Mohammed Fairouz’s Pax Universalis; and six selections with Monika and her most versatile ensemble, Megan Gould (violin), Zeb Gould (guitar), and Shane Shanahan (percussion – and a musician with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble). Arrangements of those pieces are by Megan Gould and Jamshied Sharifi (who recently won a Tony for his orchestrations for the musical, The Band’s Visit).

Monika publicity photo

But there is MORE. We’ve just learned that we will have members of several refugee communities in attendance at the concert. There will be a major video shoot as well. We are getting attention from places far and wide for our program. That is gratifying, to say the least.

This is a concert that is in the true spirit of collaboration: performing musicians (soloists and orchestra), support staff, outside organizations, administrative personnel, and the composers and arrangers. Now all that is left to ask, is that you join us for this special performance. It’s on December 6, smack in the middle of the “holiday” season. There is no White Christmas, Silent Night, or Nutcracker on the program, but there will be a great deal of the goodwill that makes this time of year special for people from around the globe. I am happy that we can reach out in this way with this unique and moving concert. Hope to see you there. If you cannot make it. Please join us online at: https://music.utah.edu/libby-live/index.php

 

 

Campus Locations Libby Gardner Concert Hall
Cost General Admission: $12.50, Arts Pass event: Free for U of U students with UCard, Non-U of U Students: $6.50, Faculty, Staff, Seniors: $6.50
Ticket URL tickets.utah.edu…
Contact Name School of Music
Contact Phone 801-581-6762
Contact Email events@music.utah.edu
Campus Wide Event Yes
Link music.utah.edu

The Utah Philharmonia presents “The Sands of Time: Journey Through the Middle East” with special guests, Monika Jalili and ensemble: Shane Shanahan, Megan Gould, and Zeb Gould. Works to be performed include Ottorino Respighi’s “Belkis Queen of Sheba Suite,” Shalan Alhamwy’s “Two Images from Aleppo”, and Mohammed Fairouz’s “Pax Universalis.” Monika Jalili and ensemble will also perform Persian songs accompanied by the Utah Philharmonic. This event is in partnership with the University of Utah Middle East Center.

 

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Keep Going

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I had an interesting discussion with a group of students recently. The basic topic of discussion was this: “How long do you wait to ‘make it in the field’ before throwing in the towel? And similarly, how do you know when you’ve made it?”

To answer the question I relayed a true conversation I had with TV and film composer Mike Post in 1985 at a summer festival. When asked essentially the same question, he replied: “If it means that much to you, you must work hard, make contacts. and wait long as it takes. If you need to eat peanut butter sandwiches for years, you must do so if working in this field means that much to you.”
Sage advice. (I ate a lot of PBJ back in the day, BTW).
Another wise tidbit comes from the great cellist Janos Starker, who I had the privilege to hear speak in 2000: “Remember, there are many needs for musicians and teachers in every place in America. Do not delude yourself into thinking that you only are a success in this field if you work in New York, Boston, or Chicago.”
More sage advice. (I’ve worked in many places, none of which are the fabled places of success).
In truth, the students were shocked to learn that I’ve been rejected for most job applications I’ve submitted, (probably over a hundred, actually). Yet I’m still happily engaged in a career in the arts. In my relatively recent side-pursuit of writing, I’ve received more rejections than acceptances by a 3:1 margin. Yet I’ve still had a small number or works published, with increasing frequency. (If not in major literary journals, or “apex publications,”  at least they HAVE been published).

The importance of what we do is in the doing of it, or as the great writer Ursula Le Guin writes:

“Practice is an interesting word. We think of practicing as beginner’s stuff, playing scales, basic exercises. But the practice of an art is the doing of that art—it is the art.” – Ursula K. LeGuin

What we should learn from all our practice is that it is not about “perfection,” as the saying goes, but about perseverance. We must continue to do what we do, and we will likely learn and grow as much, if not more, from our mistakes, rejections, and less-than-perfect performances.

So, the lesson I’ve imparted, and learned myself, is basically this:

Keep Going.
If you build it, they will come…eventually
And,
We are all on a unique path that follows its own timeline. Don’t compare yourself to others.
Keep Going.
Hit the scores, practice the technique, dig deeper into your soul than ever before. Do your art every day you possibly can.
Network without the expectation of immediate return, say YES to opportunities; say NO to being used.
Keep Going

P.S. I also told the student who said he needed to make $200K per year right out of college in order to support his family that a career in the arts may not be the best choice for him, if that was truly his priority. Sorry, there are also deal breakers.

 

Copyright 2018, Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat

Image source: https://weheartit.com/entry/231170553

 

It’s Time We Retire the Label, “Semi-Professional”

semi-professional*:

adjective

  • Receiving payment for an activity but not relying entirely on it for a living.

‘a semi-professional musician’

noun

  • A person who is engaged in an activity on a semi-professional basis.

‘My parents were lay musicians, but Dad was more of a semi-professional.’

 

*Note, the above definitions, from the Oxford Dictionary, do not mention anything regarding quality, worthiness, or merit of said activities

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I make my living from a combination of university teaching, conducting part-time ensembles, and occasionally performing on viola. As a conductor of several types of ensembles, and a teaching and performing musician as well, I consider all of my activity to be “professional-based.” Yet the music industry often does not always agree, as it assigns arbitrary value based on perceived prestige of any activity. What is often deemed important is often no more than a matter of who you know, where you studied, and being in the right place at the right time. There is also the plain fact that once you get a break and do something with it, then you are on your way. (That last one is a good thing if you can maintain it).

Not so fast, you say. This sounds a bit like sour grapes. I assure you it is not. I am quite comfortable in my life and consider myself as maintaining and continuing to build a successful career. But time and again, I hear things, read reviews and see evidence that the industry often discriminates, not on artistic grounds, but on other dubious criteria. The topic du jour, then, is artistic merit based on factors that the artist has little control over; namely what is and is not considered to be a “top-tier” experience; as case-in-point, a simple word-designation: the dreaded “semi-professional label.”

In my opinion, it is high time the musical-world eliminate the practice of labeling an activity as “semi-professional.” This is particularly true as it’s assigned, whether deliberately of by inference, as a signifier of worthiness or quality. Simply put, “semi-professional” is not considered to be as worthy as “fully-professional.”

But I’ll counter that if one is paid, it is professional activity. Period. If one continues to receive pay engaged in such activity, whether from one organization or by cobbling together various opportunities, it is still professional work, and is part of one’s “professional profile.” Whether intended or not, no penalty should be assigned due to location, budget size, number of concerts/recordings of a group or individual, or perceived prestige of an organization. Work in the field is work. Work builds into more work, and if it is good, it will be sustainable. I am only one example among thousands that this is true in the arts.

Here are some interesting facts:

  • Most paid orchestras in the U.S. are classified as semi-professional, by a huge margin. There are only 18 or so that are considered “full-time.” There are hundreds more ensembles that pay their musicians, a little or a lot, to play
  • The “part-time” organizations often employ a full-time music director and part-time ensemble players. That is a budgetary reality, and a proven organizational leadership model. It says nothing, however, as to the quality of the artistic leadership, musical product, and certainly not to the worthiness of the endeavor.
  • There are many, many more opportunities at those “part-time” levels for music-making. Do the math.
  • The music industry does not generally value these second or third tier endeavors, instead assigning only the top-tier experience as artistically valid. Doing so actually limits opportunities and creates ever-contracting circles of work.
  • All “tiers” are arbitrary. The industry considers them, but as individuals we may also place ourselves in boxes of our own design. The key is in seeing both realities.
  • The so-called “top tier” of the music biz is certainly populated with talent; but also is bloated with too many fish and way too many cooks—Alpha-types bent on controlling who gets opportunities. This is most often couched as an artistic decision, but is more often based on favors, the who-you-know buddy system, and, occasionally, box office concerns. It’s not always intentional, but blinders are worn by many in the profession. Institutional blinders and individual blinders both exist.
  • Despite the industry preferences, an appearance with a top-tier organization does not guarantee quality.
  • More importantly, a lack of top tier work does not indicate lesser quality in other musical ventures.

Some of the finest musicians I know cobble together a career consisting of various opportunities: performing in several orchestras, multiple teaching positions, freelance work, composing, writing reviews and articles, etc. I know musicians in practically every state in the U.S. and also in countries in both Europe and Asia. Most of them are engaged in professional work, regardless of their employment status with any particular organization. All of them are committed, engaged musicians. They work in the field. All work is professional work.

I’ll likely not change the English language, nor the opinion and practices of the music industry. But I will contend that all musical activity is professional, especially when the musician is paid. Anything less would be semi-genuine.

 

Copyright, July 5, 2018. Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat.

Definition source:

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/semi-professional

 

Sinfonia Salt Lake to perform 4 world premieres at the Utah Arts Festival

Presented by Sinfonia Salt Lake at Salt Lake City Public Library (Main Branch), Salt Lake City UT

Sinfonia Salt Lake at the Utah Arts Festival

The Sinfonia Salt Lake Sextet, David Price, violin, Cassie Olson, cello, Christina Castellanos, flute, Henry Caceres, clarinet, Jed Moss, piano and Henry Caceres, clarinet will perform 4 world premieres at the Utah Arts Festival, including the prize winning commission by Saad Haddad. Music director, Robert Baldwin will conduct.

The concert will feature the world premiere performance of the 2018 Utah Arts Festival Chamber Commission, Azwaj by Saad Haddad. Other music on the program is by composers, Stephen Jones, Ethan Wickman, and Chad Cannon. This FREE performance at the Arts Festival does not require Arts Festival admission. Enter through the Salt Lake City Library to access the auditorium.

Here’s a great review article on the composer and piece that won this year’s commission:

https://www.theutahreview.com/backstage-utah-arts-festival-2018-saad-haddad-youngest-recipient-ever-utah-arts-festivals-composer-commission-award-forthcoming-premiere-azwaj/

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Sinfonia Salt Lake Sextet from L to R: Jed Moss, Jeremy Megginson, Christina Castellanos, Henry Caceres, Cassie Olson, David Price, Robert Baldwin.

Thoughts on Mozart’s Coda

To me, the opportunity to perform a masterwork is similar to being allowed to touch a sculpture by a great artist like Michelangelo or Rodin. To feel every texture and contour, tracing your fingers where the master artist made his/her creation; each texture, rise and fall an imprint on eternity. What’s more, if you look deeply enough, there is artistic DNA embedded there. And like a scientist, secrets will be revealed to the performing musician who studies and prepares with patience, focus and openness. Then those secrets soon begin to work their inner magic on the initiate.

MozartsCoda_digital poster

A musical score that weaves through the personal landscape while still clothed in tradition, Mozart’s Requiem is one of those works that is as satisfying both to the audience as well as to the performers–intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. We will preface the massive K.626 with one of Mozart’s other final and fantastically personal choral works, also written in the last months of his life, the ever-so-poignant Ave verum corpus, K. 618. Tender and introspective, it provides a perfect scene-setter to the Requiem.

Yes, I’m excited about this weekend’s performance. I cannot assure that you will be transported to a different plane of existence, but why take the chance that you may miss out? It’s something special! I hope you can join us.

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Mozart’s Coda
Saturday May 19, 2018 7:30 pm

Libby Gardner Concert Hall, Salt Lake City
Julie Wright Costa, soprano, Kirstin Chavez, mezzo-soprano, Robert Breault, tenor, Seth Keeton, bass
Utah Voices, chorus

Mozart Ave verum corpus
Mozart Requiem

Mozart’s Requiem has long been hailed as one of the great masterpieces of western art. To listen to this music is to be transported to a different time and space. Come hear the Salt Lake Symphony, Utah Voices and U of U Faculty Voice Quartet perform this masterpiece, as we bring our season to a close with style and gravitas. It’s a fitting end to a grand season of music.

Tickets: $15.
Available from utahvoices.org, or at the door with cash, check or credit card.

Free Parking for Libby Gardner Hall: 100 South and Wolcott (1450 East)

 

Earworm of the Day

Emerson,_Lake_&_Palmer_-_Lucky_Man

Traveling down memory lane to one of the most haunting songs I know. When I was a kid, I remember hearing ELP’s “Lucky Man” for the first time, getting wrapped up in it, and then being blown away when the last verse hit:

A bullet had found him
His blood ran as he cried
No money could save him
So he laid down and he died

Historical fact: the song was almost not recorded. (From Wikipedia): “On the last day of recording their debut album, Emerson, Lake & Palmer discovered they were short of satisfying the label’s contract requirement of 21 minutes of music per album side, and therefore needed one more song. Greg Lake began playing “Lucky Man”, a song he had written when he was 12 years old.”

12 freaking years old? Such depth….and that Moog synth – first time EVER used in a piece of popular music. And the arc and lyrics of the song. Amazing.

I am not sure there will be another creative team quite the same as Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer in popular music. Please help me understand if I am missing some creative genius on the current popular music scene. I highly doubt it. (I’m speaking of true compositional ingenuity, not a creative performer. There are plenty of those).

Much of ELP’s music is masterful, and I’ll add that “Karn Evil 9” from the album, “Brain Salad Surgery” is a true masterpiece that belongs in any discussion of the most important compositions in any genre of the second half of the 20th century. So there. And you thought I only listened to Bach.

Copyright, 2018. Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat.

Image from Wikipedia, courtesy Island Records.

Risk

Risk_logo
Risk. It’s not just a board game. It’s also illustrated in the persistence of a performing career–seen in every musician who walks onto a stage in front of a live audience, week after week, year after year. It can be seen in the way a piece of music is composed and presented, or even how concert program is designed. It exists every time musicians open themselves to others–with the audacity to share, move, create. Risk. It’s what makes art work.
Addendum: And we don’t need to conquer, we simply win everyone over to our side.
Copyright, 2017. Robert Baldwin: Before the Downbeat