MM Eastman School 1965
BM Michigan State 1962
At UK since: 1972
Joseph Baber was born in 1937 in Richmond, Virginia, and began composing at an early age. He is a graduate of Michigan State University, where he worked with Gomer Jones and Mario Castelnuivo-Tedesco, and the Eastman School of Music, where his mentors were Howard Hanson, Bernard Rogers and John LaMontaine. After a number of years in Japan as principal violist with the Tokyo Philharmonic, Baber returned to this country and took a position for several years at Southern Illinois University. This was followed by a year as composer-in-residence for a Ford Foundation College Co-operative venture in Kansas, after which he assumed his present position as composer-in-residence at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
Although he has written in all the major genres, Baber is perhaps best known for his collaborations with the novelist John Gardner on three operas: Frankenstein, Rumpelstiltskin, and Samson and the Witch. Both Rumpelstiltskin and Samson and the Witch were first performed in Lexington, the former for the opening season of the newly restored Opera House in 1977, and the latter by the Opera Company of Central Kentucky in May of 1995. Rumpelstiltskin, after its professional premiere by the Philadelphia Opera Company in 1978, was the subject of a three-hour National Public Radio broadcast special.
The father of three daughters, Baber was married for 23 years to singer Melissa Kelley Baber, for whom he wrote many of his operatic works and songs. Tenor Randall Black's interest in the songs led to the compact disc recording with Marie Taylor of 'An American Son, the vocal works of Joseph Baber' in 1996, and to the composition of a major work, recently premiered in Atlanta, 'Shiloh' Op. 60, for tenor, horn and piano, based on the Civil War poems of Herman Melville. His almost 200 songs were also the subject of a large University of Kentucky doctoral thesis by Joyce Hall Wolf in 1998. In addition to operas and songs, Baber has a sizable body of orchestral music, including overtures, suites, 2 symphonies, several marches and two tone poems. He has also written works for solo instruments with orchestra, as well as keyboard, chamber and choral music.
Joseph Baber has been an award-winning member of ASCAP since 1971, and has received a number of national prizes and commissions. Of his many local commissions, two of the most noteworthy heve come from Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Georgetown, one for its grand opening in 1988 and one for the Kentucky All-State Honors High School Touring Orchestra, which the corporation sponsored. Baber, who is principal viola of the Lexington Philharmonic, has been performed countless times by that orchestra, and has received several commissions from them. When the orchestra was broadcast by KET last year "In Concert at the Governor's Mansion," conductor George Zack chose to feature two of Baber's works, including Heartland: September Towns, a piece written for Zack's 25th anniversary with the Lexington Philharmonic. Baber most recently completed a large work for chorus and orchestra on commission from The Lexington Singers entitled An American Requiem Op. 80, based on Civil War diaries and poems, first performed in November 1999.