Haitian National Orchestral Institute – March, 2017

Jens Tenbroek, bass; John Eckstein, cello; Yuki MacQueen, violin; Stephen Proser, horn; Anne Lee, cello; James Hall, oboe; Roberta Zalkind, viola; Mercedes Smith, flute; Lee Livengood, clarinet; Claude Halter, violin; Eric Hopkins, percussion; Leon Chodos, bassoon; Jeff Luke, trumpet

Jens Tenbroek, bass; John Eckstein, cello; Yuki MacQueen, violin; Stephen Proser, horn; Anne Lee, cello; James Hall, oboe; Roberta Zalkind, viola; Mercedes Smith, flute; Lee Livengood, clarinet; Claude Halter, violin; Eric Hopkins, percussion; Leon Chodos, bassoon; Jeff Luke, trumpet


SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (November 29, 2016) – Fourteen Utah Symphony musicians along with Music Director Thierry Fischer will head to Haiti in March 2017 on a service mission to bring classical music training to 100 young Haitian-born musicians from across the island nation.

Spearheaded by Utah Symphony cellist John Eckstein, the group will support Building Leaders Using Music Education (BLUME) Haiti, an organization dedicated to strengthening the country’s socio-economic fabric through classical music. They will create the first Haitian National Orchestral Institute – a week-long workshop for top Haitian music students March 27 to April 1, 2017 – held at the Dessaix-Baptiste Music School in Jacmel, the vibrant cultural capital of Haiti. Haiti is a Caribbean nation only 900 miles off the coast of Miami, FL that faces immense challenges ranging from natural disasters to political upheaval. It shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic to its east, and was one of the regions hard hit by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. 

Every section of the orchestra – with the exception of tuba and harp – will be represented in the group of Utah Symphony musicians who have volunteered their time and expertise during a break from regularly scheduled performances. The full list of participating orchestra members is: Leon Chodos (bassoon), John Eckstein (cello), Thierry Fischer (conductor), James Hall (oboe), Claude Halter (violin), Eric Hopkins (percussion/timpani), Anne Lee (cello), Lee Livengood (clarinet), Jeff Luke (trumpet), Yuki MacQueen (violin), Graeme Mutchler (trombone), Stephen Proser (French horn), Mercedes Smith (flute), Jens Tenbroek (bass), and Roberta Zalkind (viola), While the musicians are paying their own way, the group aims to raise $20,000 to help fund travel and housing expenses for 100 Haitian music students selected from across the country to attend the workshop in Jacmel.

 “The response of my colleagues speaks volumes. I was overwhelmed that so many said they would spend their vacation time and own money to go and do this. But I think it shows you the reasons are compelling and what we get out of it far exceeds what we put into it,” said John Eckstein, who first experienced a teaching service trip to Haiti in July 2016. “What motivates us is basic humanity and the chance to make a difference in other people’s lives. That is what’s motivating us all to say yes, this is worthwhile to do.”

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, members of the Boston Symphony traveled to Haiti occasionally to work with musicians in Port-au-Prince. However, as far as members of BLUME Haiti know, the March 2017 service trip by Utah Symphony musicians represents the first time such a large group of professional U.S. orchestra musicians has traveled en masse to share their knowledge with young Haitian music students. 

“Music is a key pillar of cultural expression in Haiti; indeed, we have seen over and over again the transformative power of music and know what an impact the Haitian National Orchestral Institute will have on the lives of the participants,” said BLUME Haiti founder Janet Anthony, who is a music professor at Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Wisconsin.” It is an honor for BLUME Haiti to partner with the Utah Symphony and our Haitian colleagues, as we work together to create an opportunity to ransform young lives, to do our part to offer the possibility of change in the life trajectories of our Haitian students.” 

In addition to the Utah Symphony musicians, Salt Lake City-based luthier (a builder and repairer of string instruments) J.P. Lucas will join the group to teach string instrument repair. Haitian-born conductor Canes Nicolas, who is currently a visiting professor of music at Southern Utah University, will accompany the group to his home nation to act as assistant to Utah Symphony Music Director Thierry Fischer.

“When the opportunity was presented to me to join 14 of our Utah Symphony musicians in Haiti to share our musical knowledge, I did not hesitate in saying yes,” said Mr. Fischer, who will conduct a concert with Haitian student musicians at the conclusion of the workshop. ”I felt it was so important to participate in sharing the transformative gift of classical music and am humbled for the chance to make a lasting impact on the music students of Haiti. It is an honor for me to be a part of such an important landmark mission.”

Although it is not a Utah Symphony | Utah Opera sponsored trip – each musician will be funding his or her own travel expenses – the organization is deeply committed to supporting the initiative. 

“We are inspired and committed to supporting this exciting initiative of our orchestra musicians as they embark upon a humanitarian and educational mission to Haiti. Music is a universal language that breaks down barriers and opens up opportunities,” said Utah Symphony | Utah Opera President and CEO Paul Meecham. “There could be no better example of this in action, as Utah Symphony musicians choose to give of their time and talent through music to serve communities in need. We are immensely proud of them and Maestro Fischer for their enthusiasm in bringing their knowledge, passion and musical expertise to talented musical youth of Haiti. They will be wonderful ambassadors of Utah Symphony!”

Two fundraising events involving chamber groups playing at art galleries will raise funds to help support travel expenses and housing for 100 Haitian music students from around the country to attend the workshop. 

On Sunday, December 11 at 4 PM, long-time symphony and opera supporter, Diane Stewart, will host a chamber concert at Modern West Art Gallery (177 East 200 South) featuring Principal Flute Mercedes Smith performing Katherine Hoover’s Kokopelli and members of the Utah Symphony strings section playing Schubert’s String Quartet in C Major. The $100 donation entry will go towards the student musician travel fund. For more information, please email info@modernwestfineart.com

Another chamber concert to support the Haitian student musician travel fund will be held in Park City on Sunday, January 8, 2017 at 4 PM at Susan Swartz Studios (260 Main Street, Park City). For more information, visit www.susanswartz.com.

Tax deductible receipts will be issued for people making donations to support the cause. Checks can be made payable to “Utah Symphony | Utah Opera” with the footnote “BLUME Haiti” on the payment. Online contributions may be made at www.usuo.org/give  (please include BLUME Haiti in the note section). For more information on BLUME Haiti efforts, please contact John Eckstein at jeckstein2004@yahoo.com.
Media Contact: 
Renée Huang – Public Relations Director
rhuang@usuo.org (801) 869-9027

PHOTO CREDIT: Julie Edwards