Hector Berlioz liked to go big with his music. And he’s remembered today mainly for his over the top works like Symphonie fantastique. But many other of his compositions, such as the Requiem, also require huge forces and make bold, even bombastic, statements.

But the French composer also had a gentler side. Works like L’enfance du Christ and Harold in Italy, a symphony pretending to be a viola concerto, are more intimate and scored for more reasonably sized ensembles. Not as well known perhaps as some of his large scale works, these pieces in many ways give a clearer and better glimpse into Berlioz’s extraordinary musical talents.

Robert Baldwin

The Salt Lake Symphony will give its first ever performance of Harold in Italy at its next concert this Saturday. And instead of being in his usual place on the podium leading the orchestra music director Robert Baldwin will be in the soloist’s spotlight.

“This is an exciting thing for me. I’m looking forward to getting my viola out of the case and playing,” Baldwin told Reichel Recommends, adding that there are a couple of reasons why he’s particularly thrilled with this opportunity. For one thing, it’s a work he hasn’t played before. “I’ve been wanting to play it my entire career. It’s a great orchestral piece and equal to Symphonie fantastique and Romeo and Juliet.”

Another reason is that Baldwin believes it’s good for conductors who play an instrument to be on the other side of the podium once in awhile. “It’s good to be part of producing the sound,” he said. “You forget about the nuts and bolts it takes to play an instrument.”

Baldwin said Harold in Italy is a fun piece to play. Even though there are extended rests for the soloist throughout the work – including a stretch of some 300 measures in the last movement where the viola doesn’t play at all – it’s still a thrilling adventure. “It makes the soloist and orchestra happy. Berlioz writes to engage all of the musicians.”

The work is programmatic, as much of Berlioz’s music is. “There are so many extra musical connotations in it,” Baldwin said. “It lets your imagination go wild.”

The work is loosely based on Lord Byron’s poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, although Baldwin says it should more aptly be called Hector in Italy. “It’s not really about Byron’s poem. The story doesn’t follow the title. It’s more about Berlioz’s experiences in Italy.”

Nicholas Palmer

No matter what the story behind the music is, it’s a musical experience that Baldwin and his band have been delighting in. “The musicians like to be challenged,” Baldwin said. “They’ve set the bar high so it’s like programming for a professional orchestra.” Even so, Baldwin said he would never program a concerto that doesn’t have an interesting orchestral part. And Harold in Italy fits the bill. “The solo and orchestra parts are well integrated. I feel like I’m joining my colleagues and making music with them.”

Also on the Italian themed program are Rossini’s overture to William Tell and Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio italien.

Conducting the concert will be Nicholas Palmer, music director of the Owensboro and Lafayette Symphonies.

  • What: Robert Baldwin, viola, Salt Lake Symphony, Nicholas Palmer, conductor
  • Venue: Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah
  • Time and Date: 7:30 p.m. March 16
  • Tickets: $10 general, $5 seniors and students
  • Phone: 801-792-1313
  • Web:
This entry was posted in Concert Previews by Edward Reichel. Bookmark the permalink.

About Edward Reichel

Edward Reichel, author, writer and composer, has been covering the classical music scene in Utah since 1997. For many years he served as the primary music critic for the Deseret News. He has also written for a number of publications, including Chamber Music Magazine, OPERA Magazine, 15 Bytes, Park City Magazine and Salt Lake Magazine. He holds a Ph.D. in composition from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He can be reached at Reichel Recommends is also on Twitter @ReichelArts.

Leave a Reply