September 28, 2016

Thomas Baron: A Utah Violinist Shares His Story

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Baron with his violin

Some musicians believe that the instruments they play choose them. That is how it happened for Thomas Baron, violinist for the Utah Symphony. When he was in 6th grade, someone came into his classroom and asked if anyone was interested in learning to play an instrument. Those students who raised their hands were led to the instrument room and told to pick one out. Thomas was drawn to the violin. “I knew in my heart I had to play it,” he says.

Baron has been with the Utah Symphony since 1968 and is performing in his 46th season. He auditioned for Music Director Maurice Abravanel in San Francisco. Oscar Chausouw, the concertmaster at the time, had worked with Baron at a summer music camp in Sun Valley, Idaho, and recommended that Abravanel give him an audition. Abravanel liked what he heard and offered Baron a position. At first, Baron explained, coming to Utah from California in the 60s was a bit of a culture shock. In California, he needed to just step out the door to be entertained and amazed. Utah, he found, was more provincial. But as he settled in, he fell in love with the beauty of the desert and the Wasatch Mountains along with hiking and skiing. Baron met his wife, Carolee, who had started as a cellist with the symphony just six months prior to his starting. Carolee is now retired. Together they have raised two sons. “The whole valley is enamored with the arts and it fosters a lot of talent,” he says. Working with Abravanel, who encouraged and nurtured his musicians, was exciting for a young Baron, who had joined the symphony just as it started to grow. More concerts and European tours were happening. As the symphony grew, Baron felt he was growing as well. Abravanel demanded much from his musicians but he worked tirelessly to get funding for the growing symphony. He spoke to the State Legislature and once lobbied the US Senate during the Nixon administration. During another time of budget cuts and bad economy, Thomas remembers him telling the Senate, “While we are tightening the belts around our stomachs, we must not put an iron band around our hearts.” Thierry Fischer is the current conductor of the Utah Symphony and Thomas describes him as a terrific, dynamic musician. He says the audiences can sense the energy he has and responds to it. “The energy transmitted on performance night is tremendous and exhausting.” Besides a love of music and performing, Baron works on older model motorcycles and model airplanes. He calls them the three “m’s” of his life: music, motorcycles, and model airplanes. He finds a commonality between tinkering and music, whether it is something new or something he has performed many times. Tinkering allows him a different focus and a chance to pull away from worries and care. It’s his way of recharging his emotional batteries. Being in the first violinist section, Thomas can see the audience as he plays. He sees the delight in their faces and as they get caught up in the music. “That is when the magic happens.” For Thomas Baron, doing the things he loves is his magic.

Watch this video: “Off Stage with Thomas Baron”