In 2010, when a 7 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti just outside of the capital city of Port-au-Prince, Getro Joseph was just 8 years old. When he was 13, his world changed again when he saw a man playing the cello in Port-au-Prince and told his mother he wanted to take up the instrument. “I don’t know what happened,” says Getro. “I couldn’t stop playing. I don’t know what it was. I don’t think I can ever explain it.” In 2017, Getro’s dedication to the cello earned him a place in the Haitian Orchestra Institute, an educational outreach program that allows Musicians of the Utah Symphony to travel to Haiti and teach more than 100 Haitian musicians during an intensive week of workshops and demanding practice. In support of the institute, violinist Hilary Hahn will perform at a benefit concert in Park City on Sept. 14.
The program continued in 2018, with more Utah Symphony musicians traveling to Haiti to teach, including director Thierry Fischer. In 2019, protests and ongoing political unrest in Port-au-Prince made travel too risky, and, in 2020, COVID-19 thwarted their efforts again. This August, an earthquake, even stronger than the one in 2010, shook Haiti, killing and injuring thousands. It’s one of the multiple crises Haiti has seen this year, including the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and Tropical Storm Grace. Needless to say, the return of the Haitian Orchestra Institute will have to wait at least one more year.
Utah Symphony musicians John Eckstein and Yuki MacQueen, co-founders of the institute, are eager to return to Haiti to teach in 2022. MacQueen, a violinist, says she often hears from her Haitian students that music is their refuge. “I’m always struck by their dogged determination to practice,” she says, “despite the noise in their communities.”
Eckstein, likewise, says he is touched by students’ working through even the most difficult of circumstances. “We, as humans, have always created art in difficult times. It’s a necessity.”
Getro holds out hope that music and programs like the Haitian Orchestra Institute can help people through the turmoil and heal some of the divisions in Haiti. “We don’t always get along,” he says, referencing a deep history of classism and strong political divides, “but when we play together, we can become friends. We don’t care about social class.”
The outreach program can allow for this, at least partially, because it brings together students from all over Haiti regardless of social strata. “We select students solely based on their auditions, merit and preparation,” says Eckstein. While the nuances of the class system may be lost on the Utah musicians, the institute tries to incorporate Haitian culture into the program as well by incorporating works by Haitian composers and enlisting a Haitian assistant conductor.
In addition to Hahn’s performance, Getro, who is currently visiting the United States to learn more about teaching other musicians, will speak at the musical education benefit concert in Park City. Billed as a salon, the concert will be an intimate affair at Goldener Hirsch Residences on Sept. 14 at 6:30 p.m. “It’s rare to get to see someone like Hilary Hahn perform so up-close,” says Eckstein. “She’s a superstar in our field. Normally, she’d be performing for audiences of 3,000, not a few hundred.”
Hahn is a three-time Grammy Award-winning violinist as well as a prolific recording artist and commissioner of new works. Her 21 feature recordings have reportedly received every critical prize in the international press. In March of this year, Deutsche Grammophon released Hahn’s 21st album, Paris, recorded with Finnish conductor and violinist Mikko Franck and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. Paris features the world premiere recording of classical composer Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Two Serenades, a piece written for Hahn and completed posthumously by Kalevi Aho. The album also includes performances of Ernest Chausson’s Poème and Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1, a long-time signature piece of Hahn’s.
According to Eckstein, Hahn showed great interest in the work done by the Haitian Orchestra Institute but vetted the program thoroughly before agreeing to support it. All of the symphony musicians volunteer their time, so the proceeds will all go to cover the operating costs of the Spring 2022 program.
Getro, now 19, attends high school in Mirebalais, Haiti, where he also teaches cello to 13 of his own students. Working on pedagogy is another important aspect of the Haitian Orchestra Institute, teaching the students to become music teachers themselves. He and other participants in the program share a dream that it can one day lead to the formation of Haiti’s own national orchestra, which the country currently does not possess. “Music breaks barriers,” says Getro. “It gives life—hope and life.”
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