Once upon a time, I had a conversation with a respected, “high-seated” professional musician who expressed dismay that I was considering programming Camille Saint-Saëns “Organ Symphony.” He said is was a shame that I would consider programming “inferior music.” That comment floored me. I was young-ish, for a conductor anyway, and quite impressionable. It gave me pause and made me think that maybe I didn’t know what “good” music was, maybe he somehow knew better than I—so I cut it from the season program. The organ and the orchestra remained silent for that piece because I doubted my training, and more importantly, my instincts.
When this same person, years later, criticized my choice of Brahms Symphony 3 on the same grounds, I finally figured it out that his bias was pretty skewed—caddy wampus, even—or maybe he just hated anything titled, “Symphony No. 3.” Luckily, by then I had the experience to know better. Brahms was on and remained on. I’ve conducted several satisfying and successful performances of that work since.
This spurred me to revisit the Saint-Saens score about a year ago, a work I have played several times and have always enjoyed. It is a fine work. I like it. It’s OK to LIKE a piece of music. On the surface, it is a wholly attractive work, and while perhaps not deeply profound, certainly worthy of performance. The orchestra will love playing it and the audience will hopefully leave the hall happy. And that too, is fine. It may not change the world, but then again, it just might help. We find satisfaction in many different ways and through many different guises.
Of course, I’ve learned a lot over the years and by now know to trust my instincts (and take criticism with a grain of salt). But we must remember that WHAT we say to each other and HOW we say it can make a difference. You never know what may be squelched from a holier-than-thou attitude or a flippant remark. I, for one, am happy that I finally figured it out (at least this time).
So the stage and organ will only be silent for only a few weeks longer. I cannot wait to dig in to this work with the SL Symphony! It’s going to be a great way to open the season. Hope to see you there!
Salt Lake Symphony Season Opener
Saturday September 30, 2017 7:30 pm
Libby Gardner Concert Hall
Rachel Call, violin, Linda Margetts, organ
Walton Portsmouth Point Overture
Sibelius Violin Concerto, op. 47 in D minor
Saint-Saens Symphony #3 “Organ Symphony”
Copyright, 2017. Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat
“Problems can become opportunities when the right people come together” ~ Robert Redford
No, Robert Redford was not at last night’s Salt Lake Symphony concert. At least I don’t think he was in attendance. By the title of this post, one might think someone really famous was at the concert last night. That may indeed be true, but this is about the regular patrons, people who I spoke with or heard reports from others regarding their experience. While perhaps not as spectacular as saying someone “famous” was in attendance, recognizing the importance of every person is more important in the long-run.
For example, there was the unexpected visitor, a man from France who decided to attend our concert as part of his ski-vacation to Utah. Incidentally, he’s also the man who chuckled at the end of the concert, and reported that he found great humor and joy in the Hely-Hutchinson Carol Symphony. There was also a woman who was so moved to hear seasonal music other than the Messiah and Nutcracker that she asked if we do these pieces every year. She wanted to hear them again. (Sorry, no, but every year’s concert is different!).
Perhaps the most important patrons were the teenagers and young adults who were in attendance. Now, of course, teenagers are not normally thought of as happy concert-goers. More likely they are stereotyped as sullen types who don’t have a choice, being dragged to the concert hall by their parents. While there were undoubtedly some of those, there were also several young people who excitedly reported afterward that they played music, or had just started new instruments (French horn, percussion, violin). When asked why, they reported it was because they had been coming to concerts and love the sound of a particular instrument. They also said they love the sound of a full symphony orchestra. Their eyes were smiling, practically shining, as they said this, almost unable to contain their excitement. It is significant that they made a point to come to the stage and talk with our musicians after the concert. It is also very important that our musicians graciously engaged with them—the musicians of today together with both the musicians and audience members of tomorrow.
There was indeed a person of some local concert fame at the concert. We lovingly call him “Delta-Guy,” but his real name is John. He works for Delta Airlines, and seemingly attends every cultural event in Salt Lake City. He is spotted at Utah Symphony concerts, Utah Opera, Ballet West, collegiate concerts, high school concerts and practically every Salt Lake Symphony concert I’ve conducted for the past 12 years. He often is still wearing his work-clothes and airport ID badge, coming directly from SLC Terminal 2 to the concert hall. He is a consummate consumer of everything classical. We had a nice conversation after the concert about Samuel Barber’s Die Natali, which was on last night’s program.
We musicians sometimes worry about who is “in the audience.” Will this “person-of-note” hear me and be impressed? What does she think?” etc. “Will it lead to something further for me, my own fame, fortune, or maybe at least a gig?
There may indeed have been someone famous there last night. Actually, I have no idea. More importantly, there were several hundred people who wanted to be there and for which we made a difference with our performance. That is why we do what we do. And that, my friends, is what assures the future of our art form.
Copyright 2016. Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat
Overture. Concerto. Symphony. That’s a tried and true formula for classical music concerts, although one that sometimes gets a bit stale. Format can trump creativity if it goes unchecked.
I am greatly looking forward to our “push against the expected” this coming Saturday, October 13th. The Salt Lake Symphony will be teaming with internationally renowned artist Josee Nadeau for an unforgettable evening of music and painting. Josee will paint from the stage while we perform the music, a colorful slate in its own right with works by Respighi, Rimsky Korsakov, Purcell, and Bach/Stokowski. Exactly what she paints is anyone’s guess, but check out the links below for samples of her work.
But it is not only about this collaboration. The brainchild for the event is Dr. Mohammed Sbia, director of the Zahra Charity. Proceeds from the event will go towards providing access for patients with debilitating neurological conditions in both Utah and Morocco. We are proud to partner with the Zahra Charity to help them accomplish their important work.
Will it work as a new concept for symphonic music concerts? We won’t know until after the event. But everyone is quite excited to try something new, especially when it is for a good cause. Trying something new provides its own worth.
Sound and Light: Playing and Painting for a Purpose
Saturday October 13, 2012 7:00 pm Libby Gardner Hall
Rimsky-Korsakov Russian Easter Overture
Bach Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor
Henry Purcell Chacony
Respighi Roman Festivals
At intermission there will be a silent auction. Josee Nadeau’s paintings will be auctioned off at the end of the concert.
Don’t miss this unforgettable evening!
For tickets to this event: http://kingsburyhall.utah.edu/performances/sound-light-playing-and-painting-for-a-purpose
For information on the Zahra Charity: http://www.zahracharity.org/ZahraLC/
For more on the work of Josee Nadeau: http://www.joseenadeau.com/
The Salt Lake Tribune Article on the event: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/entertainment2/55027593-223/nadeau-lake-salt-symphony.html.csp
Like a good smorgasbord, choices sit tantalizingly ready to heap onto the plate. But be careful. Too much of one helping does not leave room for something else. Oops, do these things really go together? Oh no, my pudding has run into the mashed potatoes…
Programming concerts is one of my favorite things to do. And most frustrating, like those Sudoku puzzles with both numbers and letters. So many options! I spend each spring choosing music for a variety of concerts. I am blessed with many opportunities to conduct different ensembles, each with a different raison d’etre.
To be sure, for my educationally based ensembles at the University of Utah there is a curricular element. Even in a 4-year program, students won’t play all of the music they will encounter in the profession, but they had better get a good helping of Beethoven, Brahms, Stravinsky, etc. It is exciting to conduct masterworks that the students are encountering for the first time. The energy they bring to the music is contagious, and their first encounter with a major work can be magical.
For Salt Lake Symphony, the process is a bit different. Certainly I want to choose music that highlights the ensemble. But as volunteer musicians (and darn good ones at that), the musicians are an integral part of the programming activity. They give me a list (of biblical proportions) that takes some time to whittle down. Then, it is up to me to put together concerts that have coherence for the audience as well as serve as good repertoire for the orchestra.
Oh, yeah, the audience–the entire point of performing music. This is where creativity comes into the process. A good program is like the perfect multi-course meal. It needs balance, variety and diversity. (But it need not look like a Happy Meal, and it better not taste like one!). This is where it gets fun. Like the contestants on Iron Chef, each conductor can have a different creative vision for a concert or entire season. The possibilities are almost endless. A few basic ingredients can be transformed in a myriad of ways.
Musicians want to play (and audiences want to hear) the music that they love. But it has been my experience that most of us have a very narrow definition of what we like. It is a challenge, and a fun one at that, to find ways to introduce new tastes into a concert. Maybe it is only an appetizer, but sometimes it can be a main course. I think the key is to program with respect. Once everyone sees commitment to the presentation, it seems to go down very well.
James Dixon, one of my conducting teachers, once advised:
“Never conduct something you don’t believe in.”
Like a good chef, the musician who is dedicated to quality, commitment, vision, and presentation, can transform the ingredients into a fine “auditory dining experience.“ Bon appetit!
Copyright, 2012. Robert Baldwin