ONE HANDSHAKE AT A TIME
When musicians walk onstage for a concert on an international tour we not only represent our orchestra and the music, we become de facto ambassadors of our city and country. It’s quite a bit different than a business person going to an international conference because orchestras have such a public face which is seen by thousands of different people every night who are not members of the same field. While on tour the musicians’ diplomatic role often extends outward from the concert hall. Musicians have friends in other countries, meet with colleagues in other orchestras, or give master classes at conservatories from city to city.
Here in Paris, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing the results of citizen diplomacy in a long-lasting way. Since 2005, I’ve been the music director of the Vivaldi by Candlelight chamber orchestra series, which has been going on in Salt Lake City for 35 years. The performance of great Baroque music in a local church that has wonderful acoustics is an annual December and is one of Utah’s cultural highlights of the holiday season.
But in addition to being an intensely rewarding musical experience for me, as conductor, the performing musicians, and our loyal audience, Vivaldi by Candlelight is a major fund-raising event for UCCD, the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy, a nonprofit organization whose mission it is “to help shape US foreign relations one handshake at a time.” I highly recommend you take a look at their programs. If there’s going to be hope for the future of the world, it will be through the kinds of activities they support.
One of those activities is to ask for volunteers to host a dinner in their homes for the hundreds of international visitors it invites to Utah throughout the year. In 2012, we hosted two people from France whose expertise was in immigrant rights, employment opportunity, and workplace protection. The friendships that arose from that one dinner with Chrysoula Malisianou and Madjid Bourabaa have lasted to today. Yesterday in Paris I had a warm reunion with Chrysoula at a bistro near our hotel—Madjid had gotten the flu and sadly couldn’t come—and she’s also very excited be going to our concert on Sunday. We talked about friends, family, work, and life in general. She claimed that her English, in which she is almost fluent, is terrible. Since my French vocabulary is limited to merci and some expressive hand gestures, it was a good thing one of us could speak the others’ language.
For all that these international tours have to commend them—the art and architecture, the music, the culture, the history, the food, the gardens, the museums, even the shopping—for me the most important thing is the one-on-one, the connections we make with people and not just places. That—and playing great music, of course—is what seems to me to be the most valuable export we can provide in our roles as international representatives.
For more on the life as a cultural diplomat: SYMPHONIES & SCORPIONS