Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, was full of surprises. Perhaps most surprising, say Gerald Elias and Robert Baldwin, is the fact that the life of the 18th-century West Indian polymath hasn't been turned into a musical or movie.
Baldwin will turn over his baton to Elias — who is a bit of a polymath himself — for Sinfonia Salt Lake's season-closing concerts, pairing an opera by Saint-Georges with music by one of his better-known contemporaries: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Baldwin, who founded the professional chamber orchestra a year and a half ago, will join the viola section for the evening.
Elias explained that Saint-Georges was born in Guadeloupe, the son of a French plantation owner and an African slave. "But unlike most such stories, this one has a happy ending," Elias said. Young Joseph's father took him to Paris, where his education included fencing and horsemanship. "He was one of the greatest swordsmen in Europe," Elias said. "In his teens, he discovered music, and in a couple of years he was a virtuoso violinist. … Then he became a composer, and he was so good at what he did, and such a gentleman, that against all odds he rose in the ranks of Parisian society. For someone of mixed race, this was almost unheard of." Sadly, racism put the brakes on his progress, as the objections of three divas at the Paris Opera forestalled his appointment as music director there.