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Music, Community & Innovation: Celebrating Maestro Peter Tiboris
by Chris Salboudis
Born in 1947 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Maestro Peter Tiboris says that music has always been a part of his life. His father was Psaltis at St. Spyridon, perhaps the oldest Greek Orthodox church in the US (est. ca.1906). At age 8, Peter became the church organist and continued pursuing his avid interest in music throughout his high school and college education, earning his Bachelors and Masters degrees from the University of Wisconsin followed by his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois.
He served as an Associate Professor of Music in University of Louisiana from 1970 to 1983, receiving tenure in May 1983. In June 1983, at age 36, Peter examined his professional achievements and made the very gutsy decision to resign from his faculty position. “Not that I didn’t enjoy teaching, but the plateau I wanted to achieve in music was way beyond the limits of a college environment. I needed to conduct serious music… to create a life changing experience for people, not only for the audience, but for those performing.”
After serving his final year as a professor at the University of Louisiana, he moved to New York and launched Midamerica Productions (http://midamerica-music.com), gradually making his dream a reality by connecting thousands of professionals from around the world with auditions and performing opportunities that would become life-changing experiences. “I launched my big debut at Lincoln Center in 1984, which was successful, then the first concert at Carnegie Hall, which also went well, and from there came another concert, then another, and things simply worked out. Over 4,000 people have performed for Midamerica Productions at this point, all by personal recommendations and referrals, and I continue to collaborate with those individuals to obtain new talent from around the world for future performances.” In essence, what he has created is a remarkable, high-quality professional network and a real musical following that grows stronger and more impressive every year.
Among his major projects is the preparation of the annual Festival of the Aegean, which is held at Syros, a Greek island that boasts of a significant Roman Catholic population in addition to the Orthodox community. The combination makes for a unique atmosphere that Peter truly treasures. The festival consists of a series of performances featuring all kinds of music, including Jazz, Opera, Symphonic, Folk, and more from July 5th to July 19th. For more information about the festival their site is festivaloftheaegean.com/syros
With over 1,300 successful international performances under his belt, and knowing he has been a source of joy and inspiration to so many, one can only wonder about the internal journey and philosophy that moved Mr. Tiboris to become a famous international conductor. When asked about his overall philosophy of work and life, he says, “It really boils down to why I am a musician. I had no option. There was nothing else for me. It’s all I can do. It’s when I am happiest.”
When asked about his own source of inspiration, he credits two particular mentors: “Leonard Bernstein, the famous composer and conductor, was a great mentor to me…. What I’ve done is unique in the music industry, premised on the one really simple idea I was told by Charles Leonard, a good friend and mentor at the University of Illinois: ‘Take care of the music business and the business will take care of itself.’ He was right! You have to appeal to the musical side of things… there’s got to be a reason for people to come, not just because the performance is at Carnegie Hall, but because what they are experiencing is life changing. I’m creating a musical environment. It’s the most significant component of MidAmerica Productions. We have a high level of music-making with distinguished conductors and orchestras from around the country and from different parts of the world at famous places where they’d never have the opportunity to go otherwise.”
Peter’s recollection of his New York debut was very modest and moving. “I can never forget my big debut. It was an amazing experience, you know; January 7th 1984, a concert honoring Archbishop Iakovos. And on my way home to Louisiana I was already starting to invite more people for the next concert, and they started coming, and things really took off, just as my mentor had said. In essence, the music, the program, is premised on choirs from around the world getting the opportunity to do something that they can’t do at home. It’s not just the fact that we are performing at Carnegie Hall that draws people to this; there has to be more. There has to be the music, the talent….”
In starting his career as a young professional in New York, there were many challenges to overcome. When asked what major challenges he faced in establishing and developing his own company from the early 1980s through today, he offers an honest – and optimistic – opinion: “Well, doing business in New York is a challenge in itself, if only for the sheer expense of things, but there is such a high level of professionalism here as well…. I mean, people really learn to live with each other and survive. It’s what keeps us all moving forward. Of course, it’s also a challenge to find the right talent. You’re looking to create something special so the selection depends on a variety of things like where a person is trained, their sound, their experience.” As an example, Peter explains, after 20+ years of performances, he chooses to conduct his US performances exclusively at Carnegie Hall. “I feel it’s important to be careful about what you go see and where you choose to perform.”
Given the hectic schedule involved at this professional level, we asked Peter Tiboris what he enjoys doing in his spare time. “I love to travel to new places; Asia, the Caribbean, Antarctica, France. I’ve been on different cruises… Travel is very important to me. Reading people on these trips is part of the fun. These are not business trips – I often try to leave my work at home on these occasions, or… you know, perhaps I bring some along, but the focus is on the travel. The experience, all the moments, are a very positive influence on my work.”
In closing we asked the maestro if he had any words of wisdom for today’s young Hellenic professionals, especially those in music and the arts. “Yes! First, as Socrates would say, know thyself; that is the most important. Next, I would say to really only be in a profession if it’s not an option, if there’s nothing else that is really moving you other than this one thing and you must do it. Lastly… don’t waste your time on silly music; make something real.”