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Composer Rick Baitz at the rehearsal for the INTO LIGHT release concert.

Rick Baitz Releases New Album, Into Light

Faculty member Rick Baitz’s most recent works have been immortalized by Innova Recordings and released on the new album Into Light. The three pieces presented span various stages of his career. Together, they represent a return to concert music for the seasoned media composer.

Baitz’s work tends to explore musical movement in time. He speaks at length about the ways that music can show that movement, and the way it transports the listener. Given his background, he’s especially interested in non-Western ways of approaching that motion. He spent part of his youth in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Durban, South Africa, among others. His wide variety of experiences instilled in him a unique sense of how to approach musical construction. His singular perspective shows in the way he deliberately eschews harmonic motion at times in favor of texture, rhythm, and musical gesture. These latest works represent some of his most comprehensive takes on his longstanding fascinations.

“Chthonic Dances” is a string quartet composed in 2011 for Mary Rowell, and revised in 2016. It features Joyce Hammann and Mary Rowell on violin, Beth Meyers on viola, and Ashley Bathgate on cello. The piece exalts his experience with the healing, cathartic power of dance across cultures around the planet. It veers between shimmering textures and bright, folksy dances. “The healing energy of dance is a constant wherever I’ve lived,” says Baitz. “From South African township music to Brazilian samba, the juxtaposition of dance and story-telling creates catharsis- and if you’re down, the act of dancing your pain is a force in transcending it. So the dance of chthonic spirits brings out their complement, the spirits of light.”

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“Hall of Mirrors” was a commission for the Juilliard School’s “Beyond the Machine” concert series, and premiered in 2015. This recording features percussionists Brian Shank, Christrian Lundqvist, Jeremy Smith, and Brian Shankar Adler. Baitz himself accompanies on electronics via a laptop computer. The piece features percussion from around the world, including mbira, caxixi, talking drum, surdo, dumbek, and tabla, to spin a unique web of weaving, interlocking rhythms.

“Into Light” is a new recording of an earlier work, from before Baitz’s film scoring years. Baitz calls it both a dance and a meditation. It features Ken Thomson on clarinet, Jessica Meyer on viola, and Stephen Gosling on piano.

Rick has a long history of bringing phenomenal New York session musicians to the VCFA program. During his tenure as faculty chair in the early years of the Music Composition MFA, establishing strong relationships with virtuosic talent was one of his most enduring achievements. In turn, he has collaborated with several people that he has met through the school. Baitz’s collaborative projects are a perfect example of VCFA’s spirit of cooperation and artistic spark.

A concert and release party on Thursday, September 13th celebrated the album. Tribeca New Music hosted the concert, which was a virtuosic showcase for the composer and the performers alike.

You can find Into Light at Amazon on CD or digitally. You can also find it at Apple Music or iTunes. If you’re feeling more direct, you can always grab it straight from Innova.

This year has been an exciting one for Baitz. In May, BMI awarded him their Classic Contribution Award. The commendation recognized his creation and 10-year leadership of BMI’s “Composing for the Screen” workshop. Previous honorees have included the likes of Mike Post and David Newman.

Picture of composer Rick Baitz

Rick Baitz Scores Museum Exhibit, Writes for New Music Box

Faculty member Rick Baitz is currently celebrating the opening of three museum exhibits that feature his work, all of which can be found at the newly opened Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson.

Rick Baitz wears many hats. As an educator, he’s a professor at VCFA. He’s also served a couple of terms as faculty chair. Outside of VCFA, he runs a film scoring workshop for BMI. He’s also a prolific composer of concert works and scores, known for several documentaries for PBS and HBO. Lately he’s turned towards museum installations.

Baitz began his relationship with Monadnock Media by scoring 24 Hours That Changed History for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. Monadnock puts together large-scale media rooms and unique films for multi-faceted screens for museums across the country. As the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum neared, they approached him to score three more of their exhibits, Emmett Till, Freedom Summer, and Why We March. The museum recently opened in December.  It’s already making headlines for its refusal to back down from the ugly truths about our nation’s history — and its present.

Emmet Till recounts the story of the kidnapping and murder of a 14-year-old boy who was visiting rural Mississippi. The national outrage surrounding the incident was part of what sparked the momentum of the civil rights movement as we understand it today. Freedom Summer tells the story of the summer of 1964, as members of the SNCC recount the trials and triumphs during one of the most tumultuous periods of recent history. Both documentaries are narrated by Oprah Winfrey.

In addition to his work on the exhibit itself, he was asked to write for New Music USA’s NewMusicBox about his process. (Frank J. Oteri, co-editor of NewMusicBox, is a recurring visitor at VCFA’s music composition residencies.) To that end, Baitz has written three articles thus far. “Requited Music: Anatomy of a Scoring Gig” tells the story behind the Civil Rights Museum work, as well as his compositional approach to the pieces. “Tearing Down the Wall” is an autobiographical piece about his journey to music composition. And “Becoming Real” tells the story of crisis moments in his career, using his work for HBO’s Vagina Monologues documentary as a launching point.