Post-Mahlerian Cutoff Blues

What follows is my post-season letter to the Salt Lake Symphony as well as a poem inspired by a recent performance. I’ve no idea why in one stanza the format is off, and since I cannot seem to correct it, let’s just call it poetic license!

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Dear SLS Colleagues;

It’s been a week since our epic concert featuring Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. It’s taken me at least this long to come down off that cloud we built together by performing this epic work. I thank you not only for that concert, but for a most satisfying 43rd season of the Salt Lake Symphony, my 14th year as your music director and conductor.

I never get the chance to thank each of you personally, but please allow this letter to serve as a substitute for doing so. Our performance last week was likely one of the best this orchestra has ever played. Of course, Mahler’s music helped to elevate the performance (pun intended). But your hard work on the concert, this season, and throughout your lives has paid great dividends, both for us and our audience. I have rarely been involved in a concert where patrons and musicians have been abuzz a week after the performance. Modern life rarely affords us that opportunity. The fact that it is still so present in our minds is a testament to our dedication and perseverance, and the art we created last Thursday.

Communities NEED ensembles like the Salt Lake Symphony. Together we make a difference in the cultural life of Salt Lake City. We sometimes forget this, being legitimately overshadowed by an outstanding orchestra that gets more publicity and public attention (you know, that big downtown orchestra, across the street from that big downtown choir and orchestra). But what we provide is equally vital to the community. In you, the community sees the intrinsic value of music, the love one puts into it, and the sacrifice required to make great art. To be an amateur musician requires no apology nor explanation. In fact we embody the root of the word “amateur” from the French, meaning “lover of.” Your love of music, music-making and for each other shines within the walls of Libby Gardner Hall and beyond. I have no doubt we will continue to do so.

Many of you also know that I am an amateur of sorts. Not in music, for that is my profession, but in poetry. Last night I sat down in an attempt to fend off the blues that often follows a great performance. It seemed the natural form in which to create a new poem, my gift to you. I hope you enjoy it. Have a great summer. I’ll see many of you in July for our Abravanel concerts!

Rob

Robert Baldwin Music Director, Salt Lake Symphony

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Post-Mahlerian Cutoff Blues
by Robert Baldwin

Last week we had a concert, a very grand affair;
Last week I gave a downbeat, a thousand notes went flying in the air;
The orchestra was hot, and the choir they sang with flair.

 

We played about Death, Life, and After, too;

The Reaper made a visit, but Baby, watcha gonna do?

Oh, children resurrect, that’s how you keep on staying true.

 

Mr. Mahler was a poet, a bard of words and sound;
Mr. Mahler, such a poet, in Vienna was the best around;
When he’s played in Salt Lake City, we done nearly gone and raised him from the ground.

Now the clapping it’s all over, and we’ve taken our final bow;
Mr. Mahler’s finished speaking, left the audience entranced in the Now;
We provided fertile ground, and he simply used us as the plough.

It might seem kinda strange, using Mahler and the blues;
A form not yet invented, but today it’s just last week’s news;
How else I’m gonna tell ya, that we rocked the roof, and stood ’em in the pews?

Now I’ve got a long, long summer, no Mahler in any week;
Not for next year either, but my season–it ain’t so bleak;
Thanks to Maestro Gustav, my paddle’s now finally got a creek.

You might think I’d be lonely, now that all is silent here;
It might be just that only a note or two is left for my ear;
But I got the Mahler memory, to carry me throughout the year.

5/22/19

Copyright, 2019, Robert Baldwin

 

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Salt Lake Symphony Season Release

Here’s the 44th Season for the Salt Lake Symphony, year 15 for me as Music Director. Time flies when you’re having fun.

 

Salt Lake Symphony, 2019-2020 ~ The 44th Season. Robert Baldwin, Music Director

September 28, 2019. Fantastique! 44th Season Opener

  • César Franck: Le Chausseur maudit
  • Hector Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique

November 9, 2019. New Horizons. Julie Wright-Costa, soprano. World Premiere piece by John Costa, plus HS Side-by-Side performance.

  • Alberto Ginastera: Estancia Suite, op. 8a (with side-by-side High School musicians)
  • John Costa: World Premiere Piece for Soprano and Orchestra
  • Aaron Copland: Symphony No. 3

December 5, 6 and 7, 2019: Amahl and Christmas Carol at the Grand Theatre.

Collaboration with the Grand Theater and University of Utah Lyric Opera Ensemble

(Robert Breault, Director of U Opera; Nick Harker and Michael Leavitt, conductors)

  • Giancarlo Menotti: Amahl and the Night Visitors
  • Michael Leavitt: A Christmas Carol

December 14, 2019: Let There Be Peace: Holiday Concert with Utah Voices

Robert Baldwin and Kelly DeHaan, conductors

  • Dan Forrest: “Arise, Shine!”
  • Other Holiday Favorites TBA

January 11, 2020 Family Concert: The Thrill of Music!

Robert Baldwin and Nick Harker, conductors. Justine Sheedy, choreographer. Dancers from the UofU School of Dance

  • Richard Wagner: Ride of the Valkyries
  • James Newton-Howard: Selections from “King Kong”
  • Russell Peck: The Thrill of the Orchestra
  • Hector Berlioz: March to the Scaffold and Dies Irae from Symphonie Fantastique
  • Johann Strauss, Sr.: Radetzky March
  • John Williams: Music from “Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens”

January 25, 2020 Summer Arts Piano Competition Winners Concert

Jinhyoun Baek, Guest Conductor

  • Program TBD from competition winners

February 8, 2020: Annual Vienna Ball

March 14, 2020. Jie Yuan, piano; Robert Baldwin and Nick Harker, conductors

  • Sergei Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1 “Classical Symphony”
  • Paul Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Weber
  • Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor”

April 25, 2020. Romantic Favorites. Bo Wu, Guest Conductor

  • Franz Schubert: Overture to “Die Zauberharfe“ (Rosamunde)
  • Bedrich Smetana: The Moldau from “Ma Vlast”
  • Peter Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, op. 36\

May 16. 2020 Nights in Jazz: with Kris Johnson, trumpet, and his combo

  • George Gershwin: An American in Paris
  • Orchestral selections with Kris Johnson and his jazz quartet
  • Duke Ellington: Black, Brown, and Beige Suite

June 25, 2020. Spotlight Performance for the Utah Arts Festival.

  • Program: All-American Spotlight

 

For ticket and other information, please visit http://www.saltlakesymphony.org/

 

 

Risk

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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

“What I have here accomplished, I will never achieve again.” ~ Camille Saint-Saëns

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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

You never know who is at your concert

“Problems can become opportunities when the right people come together” ~ Robert Redford

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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

Photo credit: http://www.sltrib.com/entertainment/1414530-155/redford-weinstein-100-influential-filmmakers-robert

Intersection of the Arts

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

Iron Chef Concerts

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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