Mahler Memories: Ralph Gochnour

Ralph Gochnour, flute, 1956-99

An Orchestra of Teachers

When I started with the symphony in 1956, the salary had just raised to $50/week. There were only two woodwind spots in each section, and those were already filled by our principal Gene Foster and our piccolo player Ted Wight, so I was hired as second flute, but I also had to handle the library to earn a full contract. My wife, Rosie, spent a lot of time putting bowings in the violin parts. The principal players were getting $125 /week, and they could manage to live on that, barely. At one point there were 35 members of the symphony who, like me, were schoolteachers. Several of the districts were very good about it. When we had to be gone with the orchestra, instead of calling in and having them hiring the substitute, they had us get our own substitutes. Therefore we could trust the person who came in and we could have some continuity in the program. We would usually have the same substitute, as needed, for the entire year. Very often the substitutes were students in college that were going into music education. We were able to function pretty well. I could keep my program going because the students got acquainted with the substitute; the substitute knew what I was doing, and it wasn’t a big disruption. We had to have the second employment, especially if we had a family or were married: you couldn’t survive on the symphony salary in those years.

Making Things Happen

One year, around my seventh year in the orchestra and after we had started rehearsing in the University of Utah Union Ballroom, Abravanel decided he was going to raise the salary from $50 to $75 a week. It wasn’t just $5 a year, it was a big jump. Abravanel told the board that he had authorized the salary to be raised to $75 a week, and I think they raised his annual salary from $16,000 to $25,000. The treasurer of the board just went ballistic! “We can’t do that! That can’t happen!” Abravanel said, “Well, it’s done.”  I think he pulled his own salary back a ways, but not for the musicians; the treasurer resigned immediately, but the plan worked. He just said “it’s going to happen and the board is responsible for finding the money,” and it happened.

Unheard Of

It was unusual for the Utah Symphony and for an orchestra from a rural part of the United States, to all of a sudden be playing with Gina Bachauer in the Athens Bowl, and spending four weeks performing in Europe, traveling around, and receiving good reviews. European audiences were surprised to see many women in our orchestra at that time. There were no women in the Vienna Philharmonic for another twenty years after that. But here we were playing very successful concerts of great works with a lot of women in the orchestra. It was really groundbreaking.

Abravanel’s Notations

At the time I worked in the library, Abravanel would call and ask me to come over. He’d have a score that he had laid out, and on the inside front page he’d have written all his notations that he wanted put in the parts. I had to interpret what he wrote for every instrument, which consisted of about fifty parts. He had written out all the little nuances and changes he wanted to put into each player’s printed music. One Thanksgiving morning—usually a day off—I got a call from him. We sat down in his studio and he laid out his notes and said, “I want this to go into all the parts,” because there was going to be a recording and he was really concerned. He was very thorough. He was also very upset if, when we played a particular part, every musician didn’t respond to the notation that was in there. He’d stop and say, “Don’t you have something in your part?” They’d say, “Well, yeah.” “So do it.”

Mahler Firsts

When I was at Eastman in 1952, a very interesting thing happened: I looked at the bulletin board one day and saw, “Join the Gustav Mahler Society.” I thought, “Who’s that? What’s that?” And then later that year, the Eastman Junior Symphony played Mahler’s First Symphony. That was my first experience with Mahler. So I was a little bit acquainted with Mahler when Abravanel started programming his music eight years later. There was a resurgence of interest in Mahler at that time. So many of the recordings that had been available were very old and outdated, if they had even been recorded. That was the goal of both Westminster when they started and later Vanguard, to update these, since they would be in stereo, and all of much better sound quality. The Mahler recordings were done in the Tabernacle and the U of U music hall.

Playing in the Tabernacle

A problem we had early on was learning how to record in the Tabernacle. Our first year that we recorded in the Tabernacle, there was so much reverberation they weren’t sure how to deal with it. They required us to lay out our coats on top of the front rows of the Tabernacle seats. Later we got big drapes and put them all over the seats to try to soak up some of the sound. In addition, they put a mike in front of every section so they could catch that sound immediately, and then they could add the reverberation from the hall. It was very interesting how the recording engineers did it. As a side note, once, I was sitting in the audience in the middle of the south balcony, and the most prominent sound was coming from the bassoon section, because from where I was sitting, the bassoon sound followed the ceiling just to my spot.

Awakening to Mahler

Musical America was the prominent music magazine of the time. It covered all of what was happening throughout the music world and America. Abravanel was on the front cover of one issue because of the Mahler recordings, so our recording did have a great impact. I remember I was teaching school, and I subscribed to the magazine for the school library. I was surprised when the issue came with Maurice Abravanel on the front cover. It was a major moment for the orchestra, for the city, for the state, for what we were doing to have this publicity. I think it awakened everyone to Mahler throughout the country, just the mere fact of what we were doing. Other orchestras didn’t want to be left behind, or out of what’s going on, and so I’m sure they picked up on it and started performing more Mahler.

International Success

When the U.S. went on the tour to South America, a very interesting thing happened. Doug Craig, and I, along with the rest of the orchestra had the day off in Corrientes, Argentina, not the evening—as we had a concert that night—so we decided to walk around town a bit. We were looking for the train yard. As we were walking along, a fellow came up to us, out of the blue, put a record jacket in front of us, and said, “Will you autograph this?” We just looked at each other. It was one of our recordings, but it was published by Philips, in Europe. We thought, “This is really something!” You know, to get that far away from home and discover that people are aware of what you’re doing.

An Orchestra without Its Conductor

Abravanel was a very humane person, and everyone loved him. We’d do anything for him. We didn’t question his affection, and we definitely didn’t exhibit any displeasure with the way he worked us in rehearsal, because we knew he would sense it. In fact, if he saw during a rehearsal that someone was uneasy or unhappy or something else, he’d give them a call later and say, “Is there a problem?” Very often he would call to check up and see how your family was. He was very human. I had been in the orchestra twenty-some years, when Abravanel had his heart attack. I got into a very depressed state trying to think of how we were going to function beyond Abravanel. Because the Utah Symphony was our local community orchestra and many of the players were local. That’s not the case now. We worried how we were going to function with another conductor. I know when they hired Thierry Fischer that was an important consideration. We all wanted somebody who was going to be here and invested in this community.

School Concerts

In those early years of school concerts, ballet and even some opera, Abravanel was the conductor. He tried his best to relate to the school audiences. A lot of the students had a difficult time understanding his accent, but he enjoyed the concerts. In fact, he told me personally, “I feel that some of my greatest musical experiences with the symphony were in high school gymnasiums.” We played for a group of people who had never heard anything of Brahms, for example, and yet they were all intently listening.

Getting South High School’s Principal Onboard

While I was teaching at South High, the symphony was scheduled to come and perform a concert. The school had to pay $750 towards the fee. Our auditorium seated 1500, and we decided that if each student paid fifty cents, we could come up with the fee. So we started moving ahead on this. We got the day scheduled and the publicity was out in the school, when the principal all of a sudden said, “You know, there are a lot of our students that may not like this type of an experience, so I’m going to excuse those who do not want to go to the concert to go to the library during that period of time,” which just deflated us. He was not onboard. So we played the concert, and it was great. Abravanel, cagey as ever, got the principal up on stage and congratulated him on the conduct of the students. He also complimented him on the number that attended, and what a great job he and the music faculty were doing. He really laid it on. The next time the orchestra was to perform at South High, we didn’t have any problem. The principal took over, as it was “his baby”, and we no longer had to worry about how much money they raised.

Mahler Memories: Russell Harlow

Russell Harlow, clarinet, 1971-1985

Aging Ears
We were doing the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony in the tabernacle with Abravanel, and Alexander Schriner, the organist. It was towards the end of Abravanel’s career, and both men were very old, and at one point Schriner was not with the orchestra. Abravanel stopped and he started waving and  saying “Alex! Alex!” and finally he got him to stop. He said, “Alex, you’re behind!” and then Alex said “…What?” and Abravanel said, “…What?” And there it went back and forth a few times until somebody in the middle stood up and translated.

All Composers Are Conducted Equally
I don’t remember there being any difference between recording the Mahler symphonies, or performing the Mahler symphonies, or recording all the Brahms or the Tchaikovsky that we did, or the Sibelius and all of the Grieg orchestra music. I feel that for Abravanel, it was a really important thing—and for the orchestra, by association—it was a very big thing to do all the Mahlers. But he did not do anything less with the other composers than he did with Mahler. So I don’t remember a great deal of difference between when we did Mahler and when we did Brahms. It was always very, very focused. And the integrity of the man and the orchestra at that point was fantastic.

Strength in Numbers
He had a strength of character that you don’t see in a lot of people. When I joined the symphony, there were five people in the office. Five staff members. There was Abravanel and just five. A few years earlier in the 60s, I believe there were even fewer. And he was always there when they had all of these accountants in to decide the finances and they had their machines and systems, and he would do it in his head. He was a brilliant man! He would do all the figures in his head, and most of the time he would have the figures ahead of all of these others as well. “It’s going to be this, it’s going to be this, it’s going to be this.”

Media Highlights – Utah Symphony’s Return to Carnegie Hall

The Utah Symphony’s return to Carnegie Hall was widely covered by both local and national media. Here is some highlights from the coverage of that evening’s concert.

Daniel Stephen Johnson, Musical America: Utah Symphony’s Impressive Carnegie Hall Comeback (login required)

“Ranking symphony orchestras is ultimately a useless little parlor game, but it can be difficult to resist, especially when a concert as breathtaking as the Utah Symphony’s recent visit to Carnegie Hall prompts a mental rearrangement of the scoreboard of modern American orchestras. …Thierry Fischer and his Salt Lake City band gave a performance as transporting as anything America’s more widely acknowledged cultural capitals have to offer. …Throughout the concert, the sound was beautifully balanced, from never-shrill violins and woodwinds to bass fiddling you could feel in your bones. Fischer managed to hint at the brutality lurking in these two scores without ever sacrificing control.”

Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times: Review: Premieres, a Tribute and an Anniversary at Carnegie Hall

“For this concert, the orchestra’s 75th anniversary, the mood in the hall was celebratory. Gary Herbert, the governor of Utah, as well as Mitt Romney attended. Crews from two Utah television stations came to report the big news. The inspired players excelled in an ambitious program that featured the New York premiere of Andrew Norman’s “Switch,” one of several recent Utah Symphony commissions. …Perhaps wanting to make up for lost decades of playing Carnegie, Mr. Fischer and the orchestra played two demanding early 20th-century works after intermission: selections from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and Bartok’s Suite from “The Miraculous Mandarin.” Both received exciting, colorful and fervent performances.”

Kurt Gottschalk, New York Classical Review: Utah Symphony shows versatility in return to Carnegie Hall

“The Utah strings dominated the textures throughout the evening. …The lines were clear and played with spirit in the opening movement and in the alternating dance and battle march of the Andante second movement. …After the light and jaunty first half, a set of five selections from Prokofiev’s beloved ballet Romeo and Juliet hit like a wrecking ball. Conductor Fischer put special emphasis on the dark, tragic tones of the lower register, steering in broad strokes in “Montagues and Capulets.” …The emotional import throughout seemed almost a transcription of Shakespeare’s play and the precision in their performance again made one wonder why rose the orchestra hadn’t played New York’s most famous hall for 40 years.”

Jack Angstreich, Film Festival Traveler: Utah Symphony Celebrates 75th Anniversary at Carnegie Hall

“On the evening of Friday, April 29th, an excellent concert was given at Carnegie Hall by the fine musicians of the Utah Symphony… under the assured direction of Thierry Fischer… The program opened with a graceful account of Franz Joseph Haydn’s appealing Symphony No. 96, “The Miracle”. …The concert reached its apotheosis at the outset of its second half with a thrilling performance of a selection of excerpts from Sergei Prokofiev’s dazzling ballet score, Romeo and Juliet, displaying to the fullest the superior musicianship of this orchestra.”

Djurdjija Vucinic. Berkshire Fine Arts: Utah Symphony Celebrates at Carnegie Hall

“…while Haydn was composer in residence with the famous German Mannheim Orchestra, the first dynamic signs such as crescendo and diminuendo appeared in his symphonic pieces. Consequently, this symphony (also known as Symphony of Surprise) is the prototype of that practice. The Utah orchestra depicted this masterfully, through the balance between wide-ranging dynamics. …Following Fischer’s conducting technique, you witness him following the sound picture he imagines, how he listens to the orchestra and guides them with no needless movements, but yet with precision.”

Thomas Burr, The Salt Lake Tribune: Utah Symphony earns ovations at New York’s Carnegie Hall

Thunderous applause rang out at Carnegie Hall on Friday as patrons rose to their feet in celebration of the Utah Symphony’s performance at the storied venue. Fifty years after Maurice Abravanel first brought the company to the New York stage, the orchestra returned, playing four pieces that filled the ornate hall with colorful harmonies. …Music director Thierry Fischer delighted the crowd, guiding the orchestra through three classic pieces and a new offering that featured famed percussionist Colin Currie. The symphony opened with Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 96 in D Major, “The Miracle,” performed with most musicians standing the entire 21-minute set. The audience rewarded them with sustained applause.”

Gregory Walz, 15 Bytes, Utah Symphony returns to Carnegie Hall and elevates its national profile

The concert at Carnegie Hall was an unalloyed triumph, with a deeply probing yet lithe and witty Haydn Symphony No. 96, a raucous, rugged, densely textured, colored and propelled Switch, stunning in its evocations of cityscape verve; an intensely controlled yet exuberantly emotional set of five selections from Romeo and Juliet, and a dexterous yet fundamentally menacing and truly redemptive Suite from “The Miraculous Mandarin.””

Christopher Johnson, ZealNYC: Utah Symphony’s Triumphal Return to Carnegie Hall

Thierry Fischer… is the real thing: clear, direct, unfussy, totally into the music, and able to take you there with him. The new piece on the program seemed completely under control and fully expressive, and the classics were not just played, but inhabited—you felt that Fischer was specifically alive in every note, and that every member of the orchestra was, too. In practice, this meant, among other good things, that the dance-rhythms were nicely sprung and connected, and that rests were given their full rhetorical value. Some of the most familiar passages were especially fresh and powerful—the scene at Juliet’s tomb felt like a real funeral march, for once, and the pounding timpani-strokes in the “Death of Tybalt” were truly wrenching, because each one was individually considered, articulated, and colored. Though Fischer plainly takes no nonsense, the players seem truly fond of him, and insisted that he take a solo bow—honestly achieved and richly deserved—at the end.”

ABC4 News Coverage – Utah Symphony celebrates 75 years with Carnegie Hall concert

The concert day kicked off with Utah Symphony representatives joining Utah Governor and First Lady Herbert, as well as the President of the New York Stock Exchange, to ring the opening bell at the NYSE.

TRIO Series: the Violinist

As I reflect on this time of celebration, I am reminded of the long road it took to get here and I now view each day in this city, and each concert with this group as a cause for celebration! Here’s to 75 more years! — Karen Wyatt

3830_Utah_Symphony_c0528Karen Wyatt started the violin at the age of five in a public school program. At 13 her family moved to Belgium when her father was stationed there for the U.S. Navy. For three years, Ms. Wyatt studied with one of the violinists from the Belgian National Symphony. She continued her studies and went to Indiana University, earning a degree in violin performance. After
graduation she won a fellowship with the New World Symphony in Miami.

Now in her third season with the Utah Symphony, Ms. Wyatt says celebrating music comes after all the hard work. “It is widely understood that winning a job in an orchestra is incredibly difficult. Not only do you need to be at your best on the right day at the right time, a complete group of strangers all need to be in agreement that you are the right person for the job. I feel so lucky to have been chosen to play with this fantastic group of people in this amazing city.”

Not only did Ms. Wyatt connect with her fellow orchestra members, she also found a husband in percussionist Mike Pape. They wed earlier this spring. “We have reached a huge milestone in our organization’s history,” she added. “As I reflect on this time of celebration, I am reminded of the long road it took to get here and I now view each day in this city, and each concert with this group as a cause for celebration! Here’s to 75 more years!”

 

By Connie Lewis


TRIO Series: The Flutist

As a Frenchman, sensitive to what is happening in Europe, getting together, listening and playing music together, helps us be better human beings. After a concert we are all lighter in our hearts. — Emmanuel Pahud Pahud in Sanssouci 2 (c) Thomas Ernst

When Emmanuel Pahud was five years old growing up in France,
he heard a tune playing at his neighbor’s house. He hummed that tune over and over, and one day he found out that it was  Mozart’s Flute Concerto. The boy was so drawn to it, he started flute lessons that eventually led him to the Paris Conservatory, international competitions, and performing all over the world.

Mozart’s concertos and sonatas for flute are still among the acclaimed flautist’s favorite pieces. “I was born on January 17 and so was Mozart. It was a good start for my life as a musician. I really love to rediscover the same excitement every time I perform it on-stage.”

Music is a celebration for Mr. Pahud, “I see music as moments when people spend two hours together in a concert hall, not just the 200 people on stage, but also the people listening and taking time from hectic lives to make their lives better.”
He views live performance as providing an escape from hardship and unifying us through an experience intrinsic to humanity. “We need this particularly in hard times like we are currently having. As a Frenchman, sensitive to what is happening in Europe, getting together, listening and playing music together, helps us be better human beings. After a concert we are all lighter in our hearts.”

By Connie Lewis 


Stay tuned for our last TRIO series article on Utah Symphony violinist, Karen Wyatt.

TRIO Series: The Conductor

Music celebrates specific moments or seasons in life. Music is about creating unforgettable moments. Music is hard work, but always a celebration. The beauty of the performance communicates with the audience. The orchestra plays for the audience and creates something special they won’t forget. — Jun Markl 

Portrait Jun MŠrkl 2011

For Jun Märkl guest conducting means becoming part of a new team and seeing what he might contribute to building an orchestra. He likes exploring the different approaches each orchestra takes, accepting sugesstions and trying new repertoires. He enjoys working with the Utah Symphony and only wishes he had more time to explore the beauty of the state.

For Maestro Märkl, making music is always a celebration.“Music celebrates specific moments or seasons in life. Music is about creating unforgettable moments. Music is hard workbut always a celebration. The beauty of the performance communicates with the audience. The orchestra plays for the audience and creates something special they won’t forget,” he described in a phone interview. “Music touches your heart in a profound, deep way that doesn’t happen anywhere else in life. Music is a reason to live. It builds a sense of beauty, a sense of value, a sense of life. It is being alive and being able to experience different levels of pure beauty.”

Maestro Märkl notes that his role as a conductor is to use music to communicate on an emotional level with the audience. “Celebration is the excitement of seeing something created live on stage and is a close reflection of what a composer experiences in his life. As conductors we uncover the intent and message of the composers and convey that to the audience. We speak with music and tell a story.”

By Connie Lewis


Stay tuned for our next TRIO series article on the world renowned flutist, Emmanuel Pahud.

2016/17 Season Crossword Contest Update

Hello clever crossword players! A few of you pointed out some typos in our crossword clues. We have uploaded a new PDF, if you’ve been working on this contest, please download the new document!

Thanks to all of our friends out there who brought up the typos! Enjoy the game and stay tuned for when we announce the winner!

The new PDF and the rules and regulations can be found at www.utahsymphony.org/contest.

Best of luck!

Pierre Boulez “Mémoriale”

Words from the principal librarian of the Utah Symphony, Clovis Lark, honoring the great Pierre Boulez.

I first met Pierre Boulez in 1976.  Although I had read of this man as being aloof, icy and difficult, I was immediately aware of someone quite different: warm, genuinely caring and always willing to lend his help when asked. In 1986, there was his offering of an IRCAM job to a computer programming friend of mine in need, who approached him after a concert of Répons in New York. Later, when I found myself without enough clout on my resume, he sent a handwritten letter of “to whom…” accompanied by another letter of apology for having allowed 3 weeks to pass before responding.  He loved hearing from old acquaintances, curious to know of their lives and quick to offer his hospitality should they be able to visit him, whether in Salzburg, Chicago or Cleveland. I have a note offering to show me around Lucerne and his Academy which, sadly, I was unable to accommodate. Similarly, he excitedly offered to show me all the antiquated stage machinery in Bayreuth, should I be there during his residency.  Whenever our paths crossed in Cleveland, New York or Chicago, he always carved out time to visit and share ideas.

While many aspects of Boulez’s life were quite private, his persona never appeared standoffish.  Rehearsals were always open, and he made himself readily available during breaks to both players and guests. The aura of austere detachment cultivated by critics and audiences in their observations of his concert demeanor, was contradicted by the good nature and respect for players exhibited in rehearsal where he was quick to break potential tension with a short quip.  At break he would stand at the podium until all players who might have questions had an opportunity to consult with him. Often, he was the last off the stage. Once in his dressing room, the topics could range as far as the appropriateness of “préservatif” commercials on French prime time news to discussions of minutiae in the next week’s program. And always his mind was alert and ready to discuss any piece of music, just as long as it wasn’t Shostakovich!

He took the ups and downs in life with good humor as well. Arrested in Basel as a terrorist to the outrage of his secretaries, he recounted the incident with humor and laughter. Similarly, when his tiny pen knife was confiscated in O’Hare, his annoyance was tinged with a twinkle in his eye as he imagined their shock when he returned and demanded it back (he never did get its return).  In Ojai, he and his valet, Hans, stood for several minutes watching a crow perched atop a portable toilet, talking animatedly. Hans said the discussion was a about a bird they had once seen at the seaside, taking clams in its beak and dropping them from on high to break the shells.

There was an aura, one he clearly cultivated for a time, of a lack of respect for the past.  But, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.  For Boulez, history was incredibly important.  It was tradition that he couldn’t stand.  He called it a “bad game of ‘Telephone’” where a past reality is progressively distorted through various incarnations until it is so mangled as to be unrecognizable.  But history was another matter.  After the composer Arnold Schoenberg died, Boulez notoriously wrote “Schoenberg is Dead.” While the essay clearly does not skimp on Boulez’s impatience for some of Schoenberg’s compositional habits, it is clearly written out of a deep respect for Schoenberg’s achievements which Boulez followed with a lifetime of beautifully crafted performances.  When UCLA decided to rename Schoenberg Hall for Moe Austin (honoring a large donation), Boulez was one of the first people I contacted to help in the successful fight to retain Schoenberg’s name.  He even retracted his article’s title when he was asked in New York after a presentation of Schoenberg’s Op. 29 Suite whether he thought “Schoenberg was still dead?”  “No. But he needs strong medicine!”

Where Boulez was clearly and authentically dismissive was with regard to the future, especially when asked about his legacy and what future music would be like.  He was resolute in letting others learn and perform his music without his interference.  Regarding the future, he mentioned futuristic picture postcards that were for sale in Paris around 1900.  In them, all the buildings had hot air balloons tethered to the roofs, as that was what people imagined the future would bring.  Nobody had any concept of something like an airplane!  The vision of the future was entirely based upon the present and past experience.

This is the Pierre Boulez I knew. He was a formidable composer, with a formidable firmness of mind, and also a formidable conductor, “out of necessity,” as he told me (circumstances forcing him to learn the trade to get Le Marteau sans maître performed). But without the character I knew, all that achievement would have been hollow.

Those who thought him icy, detached, needed only to look at his hands as he conducted. They were those of a poet, full of emotion.

Under Boulez’s direction:

Julie Edwards (Viola) played Prokofiev Scythian Suite with Chicago Civic Orchestra

Ron Beitel (French horn) played Stravinsky Le Sacre du Printemps with The Cleveland Orchestra

Jamie Allen (double bass) played Mahler Symphony No. 5 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic

TRIO series: the Composer

I find myself organizing celebrations around music rather than the other way around. —Nico Muhly

Nico Mulhy began his musical career as a child growing up in Providence, Rhode Island. A self-proclaimed “alright pupil,” he played piano and sang in a boys choir in a church. It was around the age of eleven that everything clicked. “I loved music, and wanted to not just play and sing, but also write,” says Nico. Since that defining moment in his youth, Nico has dedicated his life’s work to creating music. His are sounds that are heard around the world, that have inspired others to continue listening, to become an active participant in the music. He celebrates life through music.

Nico Muhler

Photo credit: Steven Psano

The Julliard-trained composer spends so much of his life writing music, that he admits to throwing parties based around the completion of a composition. He has written music for friends’ weddings on several occasions.

“It feels negligent of me to allow anybody I know to walk down the aisle to Pachelbel, because we are all adults,” says Nico. For this reason, he makes it a point to write music that suits the occasion, and allows him as a composer to engage with his community more responsibly. He recalls two weddings in particular:

“Last summer, two friends got married on a small island in Iceland, and I wrote music for the assembled company. [There were] two keyboards, viola da gamba, [and] voices.  We crammed ourselves into a tiny corner of the chapel and rehearsed in a sweaty half an hour, and miniature ponies looked quizzically at us. Later that same summer, I wrote music for a wedding where the bride’s childhood friends and neighbors were to be included in the composition: one plays Celtic harp, and the other, a sort of bedazzled steampunk cornet.”

Nico vehemently believes in the power of music. “I think music has the ability to transform space, which is its amazing invisible power,” he says.  For him, the moments just before a rehearsal of a large orchestra are the most moving. These are the moments when each player is focused on what’s in front of them, or what’s in their head, or perhaps their own work. That moment exemplifies life experienced through music.

By Autumn Thatcher


You can also learn more about Nico Muhly’s World Premiere composition, commissioned by the Utah Symphony.

Mahler Memories: Frances Darger

francesDargerFrances Darger (violin, 1942-2012)

Patient Determination

Abravanel gradually, slowly built the whole thing up like you can’t believe. He got into the community, he bought a house, he moved here, he was here all the time except for the summer. If we’d go play in Southern Utah, he went with us to southern Utah. He took us everywhere. And he just gradually, gradually added more weeks, gradually raised the money. He had patient determination. And he was an interesting, wonderful man. And he got to know the community beautifully, knowing who all the movers and shakers were.

Porcelain Reverberations

One of my favorite stories from when we were recording in the tabernacle was when they ran the electrical stuff through the bathroom because they figured it would reverberate better. Well one day they said, “Ooh, we’ve got a problem.” “What happened there?” “Somebody flushed the toilet and fouled up the recording.” It was just fascinating. They got the reverberation from the tile, but they had to stop recording for a minute because somebody flushed the toilet.

Abravanel Hall

Abravanel never got to conduct in the hall, which was sad. But how he got that hall built—that’s still my favorite story. He went to Cyril Harris, and I think he was at New York University or Columbia—he was an acoustician—and he said, “Build us a hall for the symphony, opera, and ballet.” And he came back and said, “There’s no such thing as a perfect hall for the symphony, opera, and the ballet.” He said, “If you’ll look around your town and find an old theater, we’ll remodel it for the opera and the ballet, and we’ll build you a hall for the symphony.” And that’s what happened.