When we realized our director of Austin Classical Guitar Youth Orchestra, Joseph Williams II, would be unable to conduct them at this Saturday’s performance (on account that he also needed to perform in the concert as a member of the Texas Guitar Quartet!), our first choice to lead our elite youth guitar orchestra was conductor extraordinaire Brent Baldwin.
Brent, as you’ll find out below, is a truly astonishing talent, one of the most creative and dynamic cultural forces in Austin.
He’s done a tremendous job with the talented young players of ACGYO, and he shares conducting duties on Saturday night with Conspirare’s Nina Revering as they lead our youth orchestra, and Conspirare’s Youth Choir, in a breathtaking opening half.
Still need tickets? Information is online here.
We asked Brent a few questions about everything from working with the young talents in ACGYO to playing for tens of thousands on his recent tour in Asia with a rock band.
Matthew Hinsley: What has it been like working with ACGYO?
Brent Baldwin: It’s been an absolute treat to work with such exceptional young talent. I think it’s a testament to ACG’s impact on the arts world. Austin is truly a classical guitar hub thanks to this organization.
It’s really inspiring to see intelligent and immensely talented young people work together toward a common goal. The world needs more of this! If I had a single regret about working with ACGYO, it reminds me that I didn’t have an opportunity to play in such a group when I was younger!
MH: What is most exciting to you about this project?
BB: I can’t narrow it to just one! This project combines three specific passions of mine—guitar music, choral music, and contemporary music.
The guitar is where my journey into music began. My initial focus was punk and noise rock, and while I never lost my love for the electric guitar, I stumbled upon an excellent classical guitar teacher (Christopher Kane) while at college in New Hampshire. The result was a change of major (from visual art to music performance) and a brand new outlook on what guitar music—and music itself—could be.
Choral music was likewise something I stumbled into by chance. There’s really something about the communal sharing of sound—sans instruments—that electrifies the air. I’m not remotely religious, but there are times when the harmonics of certain sonorities lock in just so, and it really does become a spiritual kind of moment for me.
In my twenty plus years of conducting, contemporary music has been a huge focus of mine. There’s so much emphasis on the masterworks of the past, and while they’re all wonderful works, we’re doing a great disservice to future generations of listeners and musicians if we fail to also make room for contemporary composers like Nico Muhly and Graham Reynolds. If people take the time to seek out and embrace the Beethovens and Mozarts of our time (after all, these guys were the contemporary weirdo composers of their time), there’s so much richness to be discovered. How exciting is that!
MH: You’re working with friends and colleagues like Graham Reynolds and Craig Hella Johnson in this project. How significant is it to make music with friends?
BB: SO very significant. These beautiful friends contribute so much to the Austin musical world, and any arts scene is going to benefit when artists gather forces for a common cause. Graham and I witnessed this last year when we worked together with Texas Performing Arts and Fusebox Festival to create Mozart Requiem Undead, which would have been far less successful than it would have been if any of us had tried to produce it alone. Texas Choral Consort’s most recent event, Indie Orchestra Night, brought together a chorus, an orchestra, and independent rock/pop figures like Dana Falconberry, Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg, the Rocketboys and Hip-Hop artist Zeale. All this in the spirit of making something exciting happen that we couldn’t easily pull off ourselves.
In my book, artistic collaboration trumps artistic competition any day. It’s a lot more work, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun!
MH: You’re a busy guy, from leading Texas Choral Consort, one of the most critically acclaimed Austin arts organizations in 2014, to touring Taiwan and Japan in a rock band and playing for tens of thousands. What else are you up to, what do you wish everyone knew about?
BB: In the wake of a pretty big year, Texas Choral Consort is gearing up to premiere a new large-scale work by Austin composer Russell Reed alongside the Ralph Vaughan Williams masterpiece Dona Nobis Pacem (August 16th at the Austin ISD Performing Arts Center). We’ve also got a number of terrific collaborations in the works with Line Upon Line percussion ensemble, Convergence and many, many others.
I’m in final negotiations regarding some upcoming domestic and international tours… things are still being worked out, so I won’t jinx things by spilling too many beans! Traveling to other parts of the world to share music with people is one of my very favorite things.
I’m also finalizing details on a number of world-premiere works which I’ll be conducting in the coming year or two. There are a number of recording projects in the works as well, including a brand new symphony by Austin composer Nathan Felix and a number of indie band orchestral collaborations. I’m keeping pretty busy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love what I do!