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Opinion

UW-River Falls Symphony Band hosts special guest

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March 23, 2012

On the Thursday evening just before we all left for spring break, the UW-River Falls Symphony Band and University Band performed a March concert. This was not just any mainstream, ordinary concert, however. The bands had the great honor of accompanying guest soloist Alan Baer, the principal tuba player of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

No one truly realized until after the concert just how big of a deal it really was to have Baer perform here with our bands. Having one of the best tuba players in the world come to the small town of River Falls is something every person in both bands should be proud to acknowledge.

Alan Baer began studying for his undergraduate degree at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. There he studied with Gary Bird, who is now the director of the University Band. He then went on to complete his Bachelor of Music degree at Cleveland Institute of Music, under the teachings of Ronald Bishop.

He went on to complete graduate work at various schools, including Cleveland Institute of Music, University of Southern California, and California State University at Long Beach, where he studied with Tommy Johnson. He also taught while in Long Beach, conducting both the University Tuba Ensemble and Brass Choir.

Baer joined the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 2004 and has been the principal tuba player ever since. Prior to his years with this highly prestigious ensemble, he was the principal tuba player for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

While in Milwaukee, he also taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, serving as an adjunct professor of tuba and euphonium and also conducting the Tuba/Euphonium Ensemble. He has also performed with various other ensembles, including but not limited, to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Along with the time Baer puts in to performing with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, he also puts time towards teaching at the Juilliard School, the Manhattan School of Music, and the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.

He is not unfamiliar with serving as the honored guest soloist for an ensemble. Prior to his appearance here at UWRF, he has served as a guest soloist for ensembles in Japan, Switzerland, Spain, Austria, Germany and France. His immense talent is not only known here in the United States, but also around the world.

At the March 8 concert, Baer played two pieces with each of the bands. With the Symphony Band, he was the soloist for “Concerto for Tuba and Wind Ensemble” and “La Virgen de la Macarena.” For the University Band, he was the soloist for “Bolivar” and Gershwin’s famous “Someone to Watch Over Me,” which featured a smaller group to accompany him.

I play flute for both bands, so I got to share in the great honor of accompanying Baer. The music he played was extremely difficult, with many runs and fast tempos. But Baer made it seem so easy with such talent.

He played every note so effortlessly and it sounded beautiful. You may think for being such an amazing musician, he would be stuck up and more or less a “diva.” He was not at all! He was so down-to-earth and seemed like such a friendly and approachable guy.

He was not afraid to loosen up and joke around a little bit. There was not one person in that room the night of the concert that was not in awe of his gorgeous tuba playing or his genuine personality. Performing next to the best tuba player in the world that night is an experience that I will always remember.

Having him there that night is hugely in part to Bird, his former teacher. To see both of them interact with one another, teaching each other things, was amazing. It is important to thank our directors, for they are the ones that make it possible for such prestigious musicians to come and perform with the bands.

Both bands are now sight reading music and preparing for the last concert of the year at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 3 in Abbott Concert Hall at the Kleinpell Fine Arts building. This next concert will feature guest soloist Jason Ham, a euphonium player for the West Point Military Academy, with music composed by Johan de Meij.

This concert will also feature a premier concerto with de Meij, so it is sure to be another amazing performance that you will not want to miss. The Symphony Band is under the direction of Kristin Tjornehoj and the University Band is under the direction of Gary Bird.

*All biographical information was obtained from the March 8 concert program.

Cristin Dempsey is an English major and music minor from Eagan, Minn. She enjoys writing, playing the flute and swimming. After college she would like to pursue a career as an editor.