Joan Tower Inside Final Emerging Composers Performance

Joan Tower has made her mark as one of the most influential woman in the world of music. By embracing the idea of living composers and sharing this with her many students, Joan has effectively shaped music as an educator as well. As a professor at Bard College, she teaches her students the importance of business and celebrating living composers in harmony with past composers. She is truly a living legend, and has undoubtedly earned her title as one of the most important American composers of all time.

Joan Tower, along with the Muir Quartet, has taken up a residency at the Deer Valley Music Festival. On July 28th, 2015, they will take their final bow as the mentors of the Emerging Quartets and Composers Program that has found its home in Park City for the last 10 years.  We were able to speak with Joan Tower about the program, the composers, and the music.

Utah Symphony | Utah Opera: How did you originally get involved with composing?

Joan Tower: I didn’t start composing until I was 18 in college and I was asked to write a piece which turned out to be a disaster. I said to myself, “I think I can do better than that” so I’ve been trying to for almost 60 years.

USUO:  How did you first get acquainted with the Muir Quartet?

JT: As I recall, they asked me to come to Snowbird to give a talk, but I said to them “You should have composers here!” and they said “That’s a good idea, why don’t you come and join us and bring some young composers,” and that began a long association. They also asked me to write a piece with them, my first quartet. That was the beginning of a long association with the quartet world. Muir Quartet has played everything I’ve ever written. They know my music better than anyone else.

USUO: What are some of the alumni of this program doing now?

JT: The most famous is Jennifer Higdon who won a Pulitzer and a Grammy and just finished an opera for Santa Fe Opera. She has become a big deal in the orchestra world. Of the quartets, the St. Lawrence, JACK, and Cypress have all gone on to make a real name for themselves.

USUO: Can you tell me anything about the composers and program this year?

JT: They are both students of mine, very talented. I can’t share much because it’s going to be a new piece written by both of them. I’m sure they will come up with something interesting, I’m looking forward to it. It is a mixed blessing, we’ve sort of resigned to it that this program will end . We’ve had a good ride and loved every minute, it will be a sad farewell.

USUO: How do you pick the composers and quartets that will be part of the program?

JT: A lot of them have been students of mine or people I know, and I pick them personally, we don’t do a call out. It’s the same with the quartets, they pick the appropriate quartet for the festival.

USUO: What is the experience at the program like?

JT: It is a very serious music making activity. If we have to change things in pieces, we have time to do that. The rest of the time we hike and eat and swim. But there is a lot of music making. The players work with them and I work with the players, Muir works with the players, that’s where the energy goes.

USUO: What is the biggest concept that you try to teach?

JT: I’m more like a traffic cop, I set up a situation where they hear their music played seriously and that is where they really learn. To put a piece together as best they can, to hear it, to learn from it what is working and what is not, that’s the real learning situation.

USUO: How has this program changed since its inception?

JT: It has gotten more serious and the level has gotten higher. It is smaller, they used to have an amateur component, but that was dropped early on, so then it became this very small but serious thing.

USUO: Are there any other programs like this available?

JT: Yeah, but not many. The big festivals in Aspen have these programs, but they are much bigger. I think going small is much better because the composer gets much more attention from the players and the mentors. I don’t think there is one exactly like this.

USUO: What advice would you give to someone wanting to start composing?

JT: Form your own group. They are all over the place, the composer collective, some are players, some are presenters, they all take different roles, but many groups around the country are formed by composers.

USUO: What has been your favorite experience during the program’s residency at Deer Valley?

JT: Peter Zazofsky, who is first violin for Muir Quartet, was a very traditional guy when we first started, so I started teasing him saying “When are you going to play pieces by a living composer?” until finally he started playing my music and I converted him basically. But the Utah Symphony has been a Godsend for us. They have provided staff and help that a festival like this needs and they have been a wonderful support of us. It has been a really nice collaboration, but all things must come to an end.

It will be a bitter-sweet farewell at St. Mary’s Church on Tuesday, July 28th when Semiosis and Denovo Quartets perform a new composition by Douglas Friedman and Daniel Castellanos  in the final performance of the Emerging Quartets and Composers Program. Tickets start at $26 and can be purchased by visiting



Curtis Stigers Celebrates Sinatra

When a guest artist answers the phone from their favorite local record store, you know you’re in for a treat. Curtis Stigers is the epitome of cool-  with a quick wit and sultry style that could intoxicate any audience. His music has blurred the lines between genres and has left a lasting impact on the realm of jazz music. He has been stealing hearts and making headlines for the past 23 years and I’m sure he will continue to be a most beloved modern jazz icon for the next 23.

It has been 100 years since the birth of Frank Sinatra and on July 25th, Curtis Stigers will join the Utah Symphony to celebrate the music of Ol’ Blue Eyes as part of the Deer Valley® Music Festival. We had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Stigers about the upcoming event, and the legend himself, and what a treat it was.

Utah Symphony | Utah Opera: How were you first introduced to jazz?

Curtis Stigers: I was a big music fan as a kid, I was buying records by that time I was in 3rd grade. In 5th grade I played the clarinet in the school band and that led me to want to find music with wind instruments and a friend played me some jazz.

USUO: How does your music mesh together rock influence and jazz?

CS: When I make jazz records, I perform songs that aren’t always associated with  jazz- like Elvis Costello or Willie Nelson. I try to find songs that are outside of the normal thing that people associate with jazz.

USUO: Do you prefer performing originals or classics?

CS: It depends. When I sing a great song that someone else has written, I tend to sing it like I wrote it. For me, singing a great song is like watching a great movie, I lose myself in it.

USUO: Who is your favorite jazz performer?

CS: That’s tough, and there are a lot of different styles of jazz. I would say my favorite pop jazz performer is Frank Sinatra. As well, one of the best jazz singers, Ray Charles, has been a huge influence on me.  And Nat King Cole- I think he is one of the best jazz musicians that ever lived.

USUO: You’ve performed with a lot of iconic performers. Which left the biggest influence?

CS: Elton John was someone who was really exciting. The first album I ever bought was “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” and here I was playing jazz with him.

USUO: If you could go on tour with any of the people you have performed with, who would it be?

CS: Elton John because he has a plane—you have to be practical.

USUO: What is the most unique performance experience you’ve had?

CS: I did a tour of China with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra a few years back and we did a whole evening of John Lennon. It was interesting, but amazing. I’ve been very lucky, I get to do what I love and it gets me around the world.

USUO: How have you evolved as a performer over the last 23 years?

CS: My first two albums were very slick, middle of the road, pop. I had hit songs on the radio. Then I pushed away from that and experimented as a singer-songwriter. I decided, I’ve had some success and enough of a following to make a living as a touring musician. I stopped worrying if I would have a hit song and made music specifically for myself.

USUO: How do you think music in general has evolved over the last 23 years?

CS: There is a lot of good music, but it doesn’t play on modern radio. Occasionally, I’ll hear something that knocks my socks off, but I don’t think I am meant to love all young people’s music. I’m not supposed to love everything my daughter likes, and my mom didn’t like everything that I liked. Music changes because it has to—because the young people making music want to do something new.

USUO: What is your daughter’s taste in music?

CS: I’ve tried to create a child with an open mind. She loves modern music, she likes Taylor Swift and whatever else is on the radio, but she also knows all the names of the Beatles.

USUO: What is your favorite Frank Sinatra song?

CS: It depends on the day. Whichever one is playing usually. “All the Way,” is just a song when I hear it, it is just the most romantic thing ever. Right now, let’s say “All the Way.”

USUO: Would you have been a member of The Rat Pack back in the day?

CS: It would have been a lot of fun to hang out with those guys, they got into a lot of trouble. I’m not sure I could keep up, but I would give it my best shot.

USUO: How did you feel about Frank Sinatra’s passing?

CS:  He had accomplished more as an artist in a few years than most do in a whole lifetime. He did it right, he lived large, and he made great art.

USUO: Your music has been featured in a lot of TV and movies. Which has been your favorite?

CS: “Sons of Anarchy” was the most visible. It went from a friend calling and saying “Hey I need you to write some lyrics” to being nominated for an Emmy  for one of the most popular shows on TV.

USUO: Are there any TV shows you never miss?

CS: There’s a fun show I’m watching with my daughter made by BBC called “Moone Boy,” which stars Chris O’Dowd. I tend to watch TV or movies with my daughter, she is my TV buddie.

USUO: Growing up in Boise, did you ever come down to Salt Lake?

CS: Occasionally, since it was the closest big city. I’ve been through on my way to Moab. I’ve also played in Utah- I opened for Barry Manilow, and the Park City Jazz Festival.

USUO: Do you have any plans or places you want to visit while you’re here?

CS: I might throw my mountain bike on and see what trail I can get in around Deer Valley. I’m thrilled to be coming, it was such a nice surprise to be asked. I’m really excited to be playing with such a great orchestra.

And we are excited to have such a wonderful musician celebrating 100 years since the birth of the legend, Frank Sinatra. Tickets start at $34 and can be purchased here.

Patrick Thomas Inside All Things Country

Before Patrick Thomas made his mark  as a finalist (and Christina Aguilera’s heartthrob)  on the first season of NBC’s “The Voice,” he was making music in Nashville, Tennessee. A son of two former Broadway performers, it comes as no surprise that Patrick was singing before he was even speaking. Now, four years after “The Voice” premiered, he is still a force to be reckoned with in the music world. Whether he is traveling with Rachel Potter performing country classics or tickling the ivories at his local dueling piano bar, Patrick Thomas has proven he has a long and successful career ahead of him.

We had the opportunity to talk with Patrick about everything from his experience on “The Voice” to his adventures in Nashville, Tennessee as he prepares to bring his talents to the Deer Valley® Music Festival. Here’s what he had to say:

Utah Symphony | Utah Opera: What originally prompted you to audition for “The Voice”—especially since it was its first season?

Patrick Thomas: [chuckles] I actually used to not tell the story—but I didn’t even audition for the show. I got a call from an L.A. number when I was a sophomore in college. I wasn’t really involved in their casting process, someone happened to know someone, and they recommended me somehow. I did a Skype audition and 3 days later I was in L.A. for the next three months.

At the time, Patrick was a sophomore at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University where he was pursuing a double major in Music and Economics.

USUO: How did you balance being on the show with school?

PT: I didn’t really. It was right before spring break so I had a few days to figure out how to keep myself on track. I was able to keep a couple of credits but it was hard because we didn’t know how long I’d be gone. I was pretty far ahead though and was able to graduate on time.

USUO: What was your experience like living in Los Angeles and being on the show?

PT: Great! It’s not what you think it’ll be. [It’s] kind of a crash course in the music industry, but more accurately the television industry. I thought it was interesting and fun. It was easy to get stressed out by it—and three quarters of the people did—but once I realized I didn’t have to be the best it became easier.

USUO: What originally drew you to music and performing?

PT: I honestly wouldn’t be able to tell you. My parents were both on Broadway in the 80’s. There is definitely an aspect of just kind of a gift, I was probably 3 or 4 years old when I started playing piano by ear. I was singing before I was talking.

USUO: You’ve also had the opportunity to do some acting, how was that experience?

PT: I’ve had a little bit of experience here in Tennessee. Recently, I’ve been working with Studio TENN in Nashville. We did these legacy shows which celebrate the music of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. But there isn’t a lot of acting, just a theatrical concert. We stage them and tell a story, without a book. Those have been a really great experience. Right when I get back from Salt Lake, we are doing a combination of the two at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Hall.

USUO: You don’t often hear of a country show featuring an orchestra. What should the audience expect from this show?

PT: Come in with an open mind. Anyone who has seen a pops concert knows how cool it can be. Don’t expect it to be hokey, we just want to do the genre justice and show how magical it can be when you add the lush aspect of an orchestra. We have a pretty good sampling of the artists and it is pretty much chronological.

USUO:  Who is the country legend that you most admire?

PT: Honestly, my country legend wouldn’t be as far back. Although I do absolutely admire Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, mine would probably be Garth Brooks. He is something every entertainer—regardless of genre—can aspire to. Well before social media he figured out how to make the people the most important thing.

USUO: What is currently in your music library?

PT: I just saw Train in concert- so old school Train. They put on an amazing concert. Also the new Chris Stapleton record, and I’ve got some friends having success, like Kelsea Ballerini, and I’m listening to that too.

USUO: What about your guilty pleasure? Do you have any Katy Perry or Kesha in your library that you won’t admit to?

PT: If anything my guilty pleasure would be Taylor Swift.

USUO: Classic country Taylor or new Taylor?

PT: Her “Fearless” album. I play at a dueling piano bar when I’m not on the road and it is all request so I hear it all nightly—Katy Perry, Kesha, Taylor Swift, all of it.

USUO: What is something that people might be surprised to learn about you?

PT: I’ll do anything once. I’ve jumped out of planes, hiked up mountains, skied up crazy stuff. I love the part of traveling where I can try different things.

USUO: What words of wisdom would you pass on to someone hoping to make a career in music?

PT: More than anything, do it every day and realize you  need to make good music for you. Just do it for you and hope the stars align, that is all that happened to me, I’ve gotten lucky and been prepared.

Celebrate your Pioneer Day by seeing Patrick Thomas and Rachel Potter perform all your country favorites at 7:30 p.m. at the Deer Valley Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater. Tickets start at $34 and can be purchased  here.

Jim Owen of Classical Mystery Tour

Classical Mystery Tour will make their way to the Wasatch Mountains on Saturday July 18th. Performing at the Deer Valley® Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater, Classical Mystery Tour will be presenting all of your favorite Beatles’ songs accompanied with a live orchestra, faithfully recreating what it would be like to see the Beatles perform today.

Jim Owen, aka the group’s John Lennon, was able to talk to us about all things Beatles, especially his personal relationship with the music and the legend that is John Lennon.

Utah Symphony | Utah Opera: You’re the mastermind behind Classical Mystery Tour– how did you come up with the idea?

Jim: When I was young I was taking classical piano at home when I was 6, and I didn’t know anything about The Beatles at that time, I was just into classical. When I was 7 or 8 I heard The Beatles for the first time- in the ’70s.. I thought that was really amazing music and even at that young age I wanted to play that music. My dad showed me some chords on the guitar and I learned from there. I had friends in school who were into The Beatles as well, and I had a couple of guys who would play The Beatles with me when I was 11. In the late ’70s, “Beatlemania” came out and I got to go see it here in LA and that is what I had in mind– hearing the songs as they were originally intended. Each performer in the show could play the instruments and sing the songs, so people in the audience felt that it was real. As I got into my teens I got to know a few people who had done that show and I was a fill-in in the early ’80s. In the mid-’90s I decided to do Classical Mystery Tour. A lot of The Beatles’ songs use orchestral instruments on their studio album. In order to do that we needed to use keyboard sounds or backing tracks- but that wasn’t satisfactory. In the early ’90s, I had a friend who played saxophone and it got me thinking about something small like a string quartet to do “Yesterday.” And that little tiny idea turned into “may as well get the whole orchestra going!” and it was a good thing I was young because I didn’t know what I was getting into! I found Martin [Herman], someone referred him to me, because I couldn’t get the original transcriptions from England, when I met Martin I found out he was not only a composer and conductor and arranger, but also a huge Beatles fan. So he was the perfect one to recreate the charts. We did our first show in 1996, and it turned into something we have been loving to do for 19 years.

USUO: What’s your favorite part about performing with the orchestra?

Jim: The Beatles’ music that we are doing is something I’m very familiar with, listening to the records over and over, and to get to play that music live with all the original instruments, it is really exciting for songs like “I Am the Walrus” or “The Long and Winding Road,” any of those famous Beatles songs. Once we started doing it, we met people in the orchestra who also said it was so fun to do because they can imagine they are in the Abbey Road Studio, as well.  It is really a concert that The Beatles themselves didn’t do- they never performed live with an orchestra. Even Paul McCartney uses a keyboard to this day to play the orchestra.

USUO: Is that something that sets you apart from other tribute bands?

Jim: Definitely, it is the element of the live orchestra that makes the difference.

USUO: Do you ever to try to bring some of yourself into the performance?

Jim: If we do it is more by accident. We try to be as much like the original characters as possible by using the costumes and taking on the persona as each individual. But there is no way of getting your own personality completely out of your performance, but hopefully it is a good thing.

USUO: What originally drew you to John Lennon?

Jim: The original draw to me was the guitar. My first interest was the George Harrison guitar, I didn’t know or think anything about singing. Then as I got older and realized I had to sing too, and people who would  come to see us as the tribute group would tell me “Why George?– you look more like John Lennon.”  I was reluctant for quite a while, but I’m glad I gave it a try because it is a very rewarding role as a group.

USUO: What is your favorite Beatles’ song?

Jim: “A Day in the Life” is my favorite song. I enjoy singing it and it is such an interesting orchestra.

USUO: Have you ever had the opportunity to visit Strawberry Fields in New York?

Jim: Yeah, I’ve gone to a couple of  Beatles shrines  in Liver Pool and Central Park. The are very nice.

USUO: Do you remember when John Lennon was assassinated?

Jim: I’ll never forget that day. A friend called me on the phone and said John Lennon had been shot and I didn’t realize that it would be a fatal shot.

USUO: As a group, do you do anything to prepare before a performance?

Jim: Nothing in particular. Set up the stage and do our soundcheck, rehearse with the orchestra, everyone is surprised to hear we only have one rehearsal with the orchestra. Before the show, the mere matter or putting on the costume and tuning up  is enough to get you in the mindset of “here is our recreation.”

USUO: Do you have any rituals or superstitions?

Jim: No, no rituals or superstitions

USUO: If you could have seen any performance of The Beatles which would it have been?

Jim: I’ve never thought about that- that’s interesting because you could go back to Cavern Club or Hamburg or see them doing their hits on one of their tours in ‘64 or ‘65… I’d want to see one where I could hear what they are playing, not one where you could only see them but not hear them.

USUO: What is something that you’re listening to outside of The Beatles?

Jim: I always have the classical music station on, and once in a while the jazz stations. Oh, and with the girls– Disney music.

USUO: What do your kids do when you have to travel?

Jim: They stay home with mom. Sometimes we travel together, but not this time. I  wish they could come, but they take their ballet classes and stuff here. We just miss each other when I’m gone.

USUO: What are your kid’s favorite Beatles songs?

Jim: They always would sing “Let it Be” and now it’s “Yellow Submarine.”

USUO: Do you have any plans while you’re in Utah?

Jim: We’re glad we get to go up in the mountains and get nice fresh air.

USUO: Have you ever been to Utah before?

Jim: Oh yeah, a couple of times. Our guitarist who plays George Harrison, David John,  he settled in Salt Lake City quite some years ago. He is in Sandy now.


Join Classical Mystery Tour along with the Utah Symphony at the Deer Valley Outdoor Amphitheater on Saturday, July 18th. Take a step back in time to see John, Paul, George, and Ringo perform alongside a live orchestra. You won’t want to miss this opportunity to be reminded that all you need is love and some symphonic euphony to make a memory that will last a lifetime.

Q & A with Bravo Broadway

Broadway’s Gary Mauer and Elizabeth Southard are more than just a dynamic couple on stage. When they aren’t sharing the spotlight in productions of The Phantom of the Opera or Showboat, the off-stage husband and wife are raising teenagers, teaching music to children and parents, and still managing to sell out crowds around the country. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to get to know the man behind the mask and the woman who stole his heart outside of their Great White Way credits.

Bravo Broadway

After we said our hellos, we jumped right into talking about their experience with performing and their lives in the theater, and it was clear from the beginning that it is passion that drives this couple in all that they do.


Utah Symphony | Utah Opera: Have you performed in Utah or with the Utah Symphony before?

Gary: I’ve come to Utah with Les Miserables and touring with The Phantom of the Opera in 2004, and I’ve performed with the symphony at least five or six times.

Elizabeth: This will be my first time performing with the symphony.

USUO: What inspired you to become a performer?

Elizabeth: It is a disease, but we were attracted separately. We met many years ago on a cruise ship. We were cast opposite each other as a bride and groom, kismet! But before that, from a young age my mom was a singer and I just loved all things singing, and of course ended up going to college for that but I originally wanted to go into opera, and then in my 20’s musical theater stole me away!

Gary: I come from a musical family, my father is a singer, made quite an amateur hobby out of it. I grew up listening to their old cast albums and I got bit by the Broadway cast album bug and started doing musicals in high school and I did Summer Stock and performed in college and one thing lead to another and I began a professional career singing. But it was really listening to those Broadway cast albums on my parent’s stereo that started it all.

USUO: What is the most unique experience you have had while performing?

Gary: The organ that the Phantom climbs on and plays in a majestic fashion… Well, there was a piece of sharp metal on top of it and I pulled it to bring myself up onto the organ and I sliced my finger big time. I knew it got me but I didn’t know how bad and about 10 seconds later I’m pounding on the organ and I look at the keys and there is blood all over the keyboard, and at the quietest point in the show, there is a pregnant pause where there is a complete silence right before I start “Music of the Night,” and in that pregnant pause, I hear an old woman in the audience say “he’s bleeding!” and the rest of the number, I was thinking, “how do I do all the staging and choreography and not get blood on her white, silk, costume.” That was horrible. But the show must go on and it did.

Elizabeth: We’ve had to walk on water when the boat doesn’t work [during The Phantom of the Opera], and the fog is oily and one time, after I had just found out that I was pregnant with my daughter, I had gone running out on stage for the final scene and fell flat on my butt, and I remember looking into the wings and being so scared that something would be wrong. The fear that was supposed to be created for that scene was real.

USUO: Do you have any pre-show rituals?

Gary: We have our pre-show habits, and they are in exact opposition of each other. If she likes black, I like white, she wants to eat before a show, I want to eat after. Our schedules and how we do things are kind of yin and yang. We just pray we stay healthy leading up to it [our performance].

USUO: You’ve performed together a ton, but which has been your favorite?

Gary: I was involved with “Phantom” for 11 or 12 years. It is like a revolving door with “Phantom” as both Raoul and the Phantom. In and out, I’m doing something else, and you can’t imagine doing another performance of “Phantom” and pretty soon you’re desperate to do “Phantom.” The largest chunk of our life was “Phantom” and to do Phantom and Christine together was wonderful, but probably for both of us was doing the Show Boat tour together. Even though it only lasted a few months, Show Boat is deeper in our hearts.

Elizabeth: [Show Boat] Being the first book musical that was integrated and the whole subject of miscegenation, there’s a lot more acting and dialog. I know for me the character is 16 and ends at 56, so it was brilliant to be able to play and work with the quality of performers, we have very fond memories.

Gary: Show Boat is a musical about a show business family performing on a boat, there’s a tie there because Beth and I met performing on a boat, and we were out there with our one child and it gave us a sense of what family is about.

Elizabeth: I was in the show before I had children and it was a much different experience with children, and having a child and then going back and doing it, it resonates a little more powerful as an actor.

USUO: You’ll be performing the Show Boat Medley while you are here? Is that the piece you are most excited to perform?

Gary: The Show Boat Medley is a great medley, but a patriotic concert is avant-garde because you’re pulling stuff you don’t do all year, some of the Irving Berlin stuff, “God Bless America,” those things that find their way into the Fourth of July.


This couple not only grew up performing, they grew close to each other performing as well. With such a fun and dynamic relationship, we decided it would be fun to play a little “Dating Game” with the couple. Here were the results:


USUO: Since you two have such a fun relationship, I thought that it would be fun to ask you a question about each other. So Elizabeth, what are Gary’s guilty pleasures?

Elizabeth: Focusing on something, like uber focused, obsessive, learning it completely, listening over and over to an album until he knows everything. Or– when he’s eating sugar– a pint of Haagen Daz.

USUO: Did she get it right?

Gary: When I’m eating sugar, I like ice cream and sweets– Ben and Jerry’s. Hey! Married 20 years and she knows me!

USUO: Hey! Well that’s good! And Gary- what role would Beth most like to perform?

Gary: Role she has done before? I know she would love to do Magnolia in Show Boat, but I know that she has recently gotten into The Light on the Piazza, the role of the mother, she has worked on it and is always looking for opportunities to perform it… she adores the score. Am I right?

Elizabeth: Yeah, I actually thought you would say the mother in Ragtime, but yeah.


While Gary and Elizabeth might be busy zipping from coast to coast performing, they also face the same challenges that all parents must face, such as working a demanding job and raising teenagers. We were lucky enough to get some insight on their wonderful family life in New Jersey.


USUO: Were you able to bring your kids with you on the road?

Elizabeth: Yes, they were homeschooled the whole time, so they could pick up and go. They were schooled in the dining room or living room, wherever. They made it possible for us to tour by homeschooling. If we would not have been able to homeschool them, we would not have been able to go on tour.  Now that they are older they’re like “you’re leaving? Oh we’re staying home.” We enjoy it because we get some time together and date nights and they enjoy it because they have their own lives going on here.

Gary: Our son just started driving six months ago, so they are more self-sufficient, the longest we go though is about three days.

Elizabeth: They’re coming to Salt Lake with us, we love Salt Lake.

USUO: What are your favorite things to do here?

Gary: I’ve done many things in Utah, we never pass a chance to visit. We love to visit real estate offices.

Elizabeth: We have friends in the area, we have stayed in Sugar House and Alpine, so we’ve gotten to stay in different places, and he’s not kidding- we’ve actually had a realtor show us some places. We really love Park City too. We have lots of fun memories and pictures from when the kids were little.

USUO: Do you guys have any plans while you’re here in Salt Lake? Any places that you’d like to visit?

Gary: I have two sisters and a sister-in-law flying in from Phoenix to visit and they are staying in Park City. We will do our concerts down in the valley and will meet up with them on the 4th.

Elizabeth: We’ll connect with some friends. We have to work, we will be singing a lot and that is first priority to us, of course.

Gary: We could stay an extra week and see everything but we are incorporating this into a family vacation and are going to Phoenix afterwards. Then we will drive to Flagstaff. We spend our time in Flagstaff at my father’s cabin up there.

USUO: What is your favorite family activity?

Elizabeth: Hiking, service, we are active with our church, and we love to prepare meals for others.

Gary: Beth is a very busy voice teacher, she has a studio in our home and a private conservatory, and she’s a music together teacher. She teaches music to kids and their parent’s.

Elizabeth: Families learn to make music together instead of being consumers of music, it can be a lost art, we really need to foster the love of making music together. Get them while they are young and teach the parents to perform too, all children are born musical, whether they use it or not is the question.


As we were wrapping up our thank you’s and goodbye’s Elizabeth added that “[they] are looking forward to this very much and visiting the great country that is Utah,” and we are looking forward to having them here! Don’t miss your chances to see their captivating chemistry live on stage! They’ll be performing with the utah Symphony at Snowbasin Resort and the Deer Valley Music Festival. For tickets and more information visit And to learn more about the guest artists visit and


Benedetto Lupo on Mozart

USUO: How early do you arrive for a given performance?
Lupo: Whenever possible, I like to arrive early enough in order to check the piano before the hall is open to the public.

USUO: Do you have any pre-performance rituals?
Lupo: I like to eat a banana and some chocolate, and I like to be surrounded by silence, if possible.

USUO: You have competed in many competitions. Is your preparation process different for a competition than for performing a concerto with orchestra? How?
Lupo: A big competition requires to perform a lot of solo repertoire, not just concertos, therefore, when I entered competitions, the preparation process was a bit different.

 benedetto lupo

USUO: When you travel to perform with different orchestras what are you most concerned about?
Lupo: Flight disruptions because of weather; I always try to be one day earlier than expected in any city where I have to play, whenever possible, as it makes sense also for jet lag.

USUO: Tell us about Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21. What should the audience listen for?

Lupo: The first movement is very rich in contrasts and has a wide range of emotions, from the subdued soft opening to the brilliancy of the forte, then to some drama when it goes into the minor mode, while the second theme, after all this, sounds like a rainbow after a short storm within its luminous simplicity.  The second movement is so beautiful and so famous that does not need any presentation… I am sure that everybody in the audience will think “oh, I know this!”. The third movement, with its brilliancy and virtuosity, builds up to a wonderful finale, with lots of references to “opera buffa” and its comic situations, including several dialogues between piano and woodwinds. The conclusion is very theatrical, with the theme almost disappearing and getting softer and softer in tone, until when three strong and short chords end the piece abruptly, sounding almost like three slaps!

USUO: What draws you to this work?
Lupo: Its beauty



USUO: Do you have anything else planned while you are in Salt Lake City?
Lupo: Not really, but I like very much the city, as I have been several time there in the past. I have some wonderful memories of all my visits in SLC after being a prize-winner at the Bachauer International Piano Competition and I will be forever grateful to the memory of Paul Pollei, who founded the competition and always trusted my talent.

USUO: How many pianos do you own? What kind of pianos are they?
Lupo: I own two baby-grand pianos, a Steinway and a Boesendorfer.

USUO: Do you have any hobbies?
Lupo: I like maps

USUO: What’s your favorite post performance snack/meal?
Lupo: Something light, nothing fixed.

USUO: How many languages do you speak?
Lupo: Italian, English, French, Spanish and just a bit of German and Portuguese for survival in case of need!

USUO: Do you have any advice to aspiring pianists?
Lupo: Find your inner, unique, individual voice, think a lot before playing something, look carefully at the score without playing it and make it sound in your brain and heart, like if you were the composer –which means that all indications must make sense for you-; finally, think of a sound that has to speak to listeners, because, after all, being able to produce many different qualities of sound is sometimes much harder than playing really fast and it will be what we say through our unique sound that will move our listeners.


Becoming a Professional: Kathryn Eberle

The road to becoming a professional musician can take many unexpected turns. The journey is filled with both triumphs and failures, and each musician has a success story of their own. In this series, members of the Utah Symphony share the ups and the downs of their personal journey to becoming a professional musician and what it takes to win an orchestral audition.

“My first violin wasn’t even a violin. It was a margarine box that was wrapped in mailing paper with a ruler for the fingerboard and floss for the strings” describes Kathryn Eberle, Associate Concertmaster of the Utah Symphony, recalling her first lesson on her third birthday.  Music and competitions were always a part of Kathryn’s life.  She started competing from a very young age, and as she grew older, she participated at the national and even international levels.  At the age of 11, she attended a summer music camp where she won the concerto competition resulting in a performance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major with their orchestra. It was a memorable experience for Kathryn and she  recalls “thinking at that point that music was something that I definitely wanted to pursue professionally.”  For her, competitions were never about the prizes or rewards. (Though one competition did indirectly result in her soloing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic!) Competitions are “things that one does to better ones playing and I think that’s the attitude you have to have going into them. For me it was really important to do competitions because they were these great goals to work towards. Each competition was just the next step in refining and tweaking my playing.”

Kathryn performing Mozart's Violin Concerto

Kathryn performing Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3

Growing up, she studied with Cornelia Heard, faculty at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University. “She is a very dear friend and just one of the most special people I know.” Kathryn describes her high school years as “homeschooling that was not homeschooling.”  Mondays were her day off from school so she could dedicate herself to practicing. Tuesday through Friday she attended school with “lots of other kids” and was let out early to practice.  “Being able to practice those extra couple of hours while most kids were still in school every afternoon was huge because those years, and your first couple of years in college, are the years to get your practicing in. Those are the years that you’re refining your technique and becoming a more sophisticated and mature musician.” Reflecting back on her childhood, Kathryn expressed her gratitude for being able to go to school and interact with kids her own age while still having the flexibility to practice as much as she needed everyday. “I think that was very healthy and important.”


She attended University of Southern California studying with Robert Lipsett whom she had met as a 14-year-old attending Encore School for Strings, a summer music camp run by the Cleveland Institute of Music in Hudson, Ohio. “Robert Lipsett asked my mom after my first summer studying with him if we could pick up and move to Los Angeles and her answer was, ‘No, we have a life in Nashville, we will stay in Nashville.’” But Kathryn kept in touch with Lipsett and flew to LA a few times during her last couple of years in high school for lessons. “Going to USC was just a very natural progression for me because he was on the faculty there and I knew I wanted to study with him…It was wonderful because I felt like I got top notch conservatory training but at the same time I was in an environment where I could explore lots of different classes, some non-music related. I loved every minute at USC.” After graduation, Kathryn spent three years earning a Professional Studies Certificate from the Colburn School in Los Angeles, continuing her studies with Lipsett. “I was just focused there, studying and practicing – a lot of practicing.”


Then she headed east and fulfilled her dream of being a musician living in New York City and earned a master’s degree from the Juilliard School studying with Sylvia Rosenberg.  “I loved Juilliard and all the opportunities it offered.”  Up until this time Kathryn envisioned a career combining chamber music, solo playing, and teaching but “Juilliard was where I really decided that I wanted to be a concertmaster.” Kathryn frequented the concertmaster chair of the Juilliard Orchestra, including a tour of China “which was really fun and pretty incredible.” Here she realized that in a “concertmaster situation you have the best of all worlds – you get to explore the incredible orchestral repertoire, have solos and play concertos occasionally, you play lots of chamber music, but you’re also in an environment where you have a home base and you can have a community that you’re a part of and that was very appealing to me.”

Kathryn with Itzhak Perlman

Kathryn with Itzhak Perlman

Kathryn won her current position as Associate Concertmaster of the Utah Symphony during her time playing with St. Louis Symphony. “I was incredibly thrilled when I won this job. It was very fortunate that this job worked out for me when it did because it’s been a really wonderful fit.”  She views auditions like most things, to improve you must practice. “Auditions are very different than performing. However, I have always tried to make auditions feel like a very poorly programmed concert.” When it comes down to it, “I feel like playing the violin well is playing the violin well. Being a good musician is being a good musician. And I think often times with excerpts we all have a tendency to overlook those basic things and to treat them like they are sacred rather than just thinking about really basic music ideas and principles. You can apply that to anything that you’re studying, whether it’s the Brahms Violin Concerto, or Brahms Symphony No. 2, or Brahms Violin Sonata, or the Brahms String Quartet. It doesn’t matter. To me, music is music and I think it really is good to just approach it all the same way.”  When asked how many auditions she has taken, her response is to count how many postcards she has. Totaling somewhere around 15, “I would write down on the back of the postcard what I thought I did well and what I thought I could improve so that I could go back and have a record of what happened so I wouldn’t forget.”

Four and a half years later, Kathryn has struck up the balance that she was looking for in her music career. During her time here with Utah Symphony, “I have particularly enjoyed playing all the Beethoven symphonies and getting to work on them in a progression with the same artistic vision, the same conductor, and I’m particularly excited about the Beethoven cycle coming up. It’s going to be cool both as an orchestra member and as an audience member to see that progression in such a short time frame.” The past couple of years Kathryn and Utah Symphony’s Principal Keyboardist, Jason Hardink (artistic director of the Nova Chamber Music Series), have been performing all the Beethoven violin sonatas. “It has been really fascinating for me to see how the symphonies progress and how the sonatas progress and the similarities and differences in an interesting compare and contrast study.” Another favorite Utah Symphony moment was last April when she “felt very fortunate” to have  the opportunity to perform Bernstein’s Serenade on one of their Masterworks concerts.  “So I guess, for me, that encompasses all the things I love doing: I love playing in orchestra, I love playing chamber music, and I love occasionally getting up and soloing.”


Kathryn Eberle


The journey in this wonderful career was not always an easy path. When asked if there was a time she ever failed or felt like quitting, Kathryn replied, “I was starting to have those thoughts right before this audition and I remember a friend telling me, ‘Just go take Utah – We’ll talk after that.’” (Needless to say they had a very happy conversation following the audition.) Kathryn persevered and that is her word of advice to up and coming musicians. “Perseverance. If you keep at it and you keep practicing and you keep refining your playing, even after you have a job, you’ll do well.” Perseverance can be turned into not only practice a lot but practicing well and thoughtfully.  Kathryn now reaps the benefits of her many years of hard work and dedication to her studies. “I’m very mindful of how much I have played in a day and mindful of having a balanced life in general. Now I’m pursuing other interests that I just couldn’t do when I was younger…I’m reading more books and learning how to ski.”

Kathryn doesn’t remember a time that music wasn’t a part of her life, and has built a career that encompasses everything she loves about it: orchestra, chamber, soloing, and teaching.  From her margarine box days to the J.B. Vuillaume she currently plays, her progression of successes as a musician boils down to her hard work and perseverance.







From the Podium: Hugh Wolff

Maestro Hugh Wolff is among the leading conductors of his generation. He has appeared with all the major North American orchestras and is in much demand throughout Europe. Wolff was Principal Conductor of the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra, as well as Principal Conductor and then Music Director of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Born in Paris to American parents, Wolff spent his early years in London and Washington DC and holds degrees from Harvard and Peabody Conservatory. Wolff and his wife, Judith Kogan, have three sons and live in Boston where he is the Director of Orchestras and Chair of Orchestral Conducting at the New England Conservatory.

Hugh Wolff

USUO: What are you looking forward to regarding the program (Copland Symphony No. 3/Fanfare for the Common Man and Beethoven Emperor Concerto)? What should the audience listen for?
 The two Copland pieces are related.  After the great success of the Fanfare for the Common Man, written in 1942 as part of a patriotic, wartime effort, Copland used it as the basis for the last movement of his Third Symphony, finished in 1946.  One of the most striking moments in the symphony is when the music of the Fanfare emerges very quietly from the end of the slow movement.  It is not the brass but the flutes, clarinets and harps who first play this familiar music in the symphony.  From there, the brass take over and the Fanfare proper is heard in full.  I like to program the Fanfare at the beginning of any concert where I conduct the Third Symphony, so the audience hears this great music twice, first at the beginning and then just before the end of the concert.

USUO: Have you worked with Watts before?
André Watts and I have performed together many times over the years, but it has been quite a while since the last time.  I always look forward to working with him and am excited about seeing him again at these concerts.

USUO: Do you approach concertos differently than other orchestral works when studying and preparing for a performance?
I believe the conductor’s role in any concerto is to serve the soloist.  I work to make the soloist’s experience as comfortable and as successful as possible, even if I disagree with the soloist’s ideas.  But with André, I expect to have a real meeting of the minds and hearts.  We have performed this concerto together before.

USUO: How many batons do you bring with you to any given performance?
 I travel with two batons.  They are both made of carbon fiber and seem pretty indestructible.  I haven’t broken one in years.

USUO: Do you have any pre-performance rituals?
 I eat in the mid-afternoon (protein and carbs) and then not again until after the concert.  A nap follows, then some quiet study.

USUO: Do you have anything else planned for your visit in Salt Lake City?
 I may visit the Family History Library again.  I am a typical American: one-quarter German Jewish, one-quarter Ulster Scot, and one-half Italian!  In past visits, I was excited to find the ship manifests of two of my grandparents’ journeys to Ellis Island.

USUO: You’ve spent a significant amount of time conducting professional orchestras, what drew you to working with students at the New England Conservatory?
 After many years of traveling and giving concerts all over the world, the idea of working in one place with younger, aspiring musicians was very attractive.  I think it is natural at a certain age, to think about the next generation and what you can do to help them achieve their potential.


USUO: Do you have any hobbies?
 I enjoy cooking, reading, and playing Scrabble with my wife.  She’s a writer as well as a musician and a terrific Scrabble competitor!

USUO: Any pets?

USUO: What was the last piece/band/composer you listened to? What do you listen to outside of the classical music realm?
 My three sons occasionally introduce me to an Indie group that I like, but my musical head is pretty full, so I don’t often listen to music to relax.

 USUO: Do you have any advice for aspiring conductors?
 The repertoire for conductors is vast.  Work tirelessly to master as much of it as possible and then work some more!  Go to rehearsals and concerts and watch orchestras and conductors in action.  If you can, prepare for these rehearsals as though you were going to conduct them, and see if the conductor and orchestra do what you would have done.  You may learn both what to do and what not to do!


To see Hugh Wolff in action, check out his upcoming performances with the Utah Symphony and guest pianist André Watts. March 6-7 at 8 p.m. at Abravanel Hall.  For more information and tickets visit the Utah Symphony webpage.


Becoming a Professional: Travis Peterson

The road to becoming a professional musician can take many unexpected turns. The journey is filled with both triumphs and failures, and each musician has a success story of their own. In this series, members of the Utah Symphony share the ups and the downs of their personal journey to becoming a professional musician and what it takes to win an orchestral audition.

“I wasn’t interested in orchestra,” said Travis Peterson, who grew up on a dairy farm in Milaca, Minnesota where he and his cousins would buzz on the rubber hoses like a trumpet mouthpiece above the milking parlor. “I really wanted to be a band conductor. I didn’t want to perform.” Travis picked up the trumpet at the age of 10 and dove into the world of music. He was the top chair trumpet in the highest band in school, played tenor sax in another band and sang in the show choir. Along with his school marching band and pep band, Travis participated in Drum Corps, a semi-professional marching band of sorts in Madison, WI for 6 years. “I was obsessed with band. I was in the band room before school, ate my lunch in there, and then I would go there after school to practice and hang out. That was like my domain.”

Travis Peterson

His “musical but not musician” parents were supportive and encouraging of Travis’ trumpet playing. And would drive him to lessons with Robert Dorer, Second Trumpet of the Minnesota Orchestra, but he was still not interested in an orchestral career. His band conductors and directors challenged and pushed Travis to get a performance degree in college. At the time he recalls, “not really understanding that you could have a career as a performing musician” and wanted to be a band director. “My middle school band director and high school band director were really inspirational and I just really looked up to them. For it being a small town I had really great…mentors and teachers… they encouraged me and challenged me and pushed me in ways that I probably wouldn’t have pushed myself.” Senior year came along and Travis was accepted into all four schools he applied to. His top choice was St. Olaf College, a private liberal arts school, but after discussing with his parents he landed at Indiana University in the Jacobs School of Music, which ended up being a great fit.

Travis “was in his element” participating in marching band and pep band and attending every football and basketball game all four years. “I still miss doing that stuff. It was just fun. You get to be a part of this really fun energy at games…I wish that there were adult pep bands!” He studied with Edmund Cord, coincidentally former principal trumpet of the Utah Symphony, the same position that Travis would win years later. He pushed Travis but, “I just didn’t have an interest in orchestra… I liked all that unconventional, not classical type playing.” The biggest turn off of orchestral playing for him was transposing. “If I’m playing Bb trumpet and a C is on the page I’m reading it as a Bb. So everything is a step lower. I was so frustrated [with transposing] and didn’t want to do it. I wasn’t interested in it. I wasn’t engaged in that.”

Travis Peterson

After four years, Travis graduated with a degree in Music Education but in his last semester during student teaching he realized he did not want to be a teacher. “It didn’t have the appeal to me that I thought it was going to.” So Travis moved to Lubbock, Texas to be with his now wife, Andrea, and started looking into the performance route. He waited on tables in a Mexican restaurant while he applied and auditioned for graduate schools that spring.

Travis was accepted into two of the five music schools and conservatories he applied to: New England Conservatory and Boston Conservatory. “I really wanted to go to the University of Maryland. But I didn’t get in there… I was heartbroken about University of Maryland, but I got into NEC and Boston Conservatory.” Andrea and Travis moved to Boston that fall where He earned his Masters in Music from the New England Conservatory of Music studying with Ben Wright and Tom Rolfs, both members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, who “whipped me into shape.” Tom Rolfs was fresh off the audition circuit having recently won Boston Symphony Orchestra’s principal trumpet position. “If it weren’t for the time and attention that Tom gave me, I don’t think that I would have been as successful as I have been.” Travis was launched into the world of orchestral music through listening to recordings. Ben Wright gave Andrea, Travis’ wife, “a big list of great recordings of pieces that I should know – all the great brass pieces.” Andrea gave all of them to Travis for Christmas and he started listening nonstop. “Being exposed to that helped turn me on to orchestral playing. I still listen…all the time. On the bus today I was listening to Mahler 3. I listen to all kinds of stuff. I use it as inspiration to keep rooted in why I love what we do.”


Post grad school, Travis and Andrea stayed in Boston. He attended summer music festivals including Tanglewood Music Center and National Repertory Orchestra, and free-lanced with many local orchestras around Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.  All these were stepping stones leading to his career as a principal trumpet player.  Travis worked various jobs at restaurants and grocery stores while musically he jumped into orchestral playing whole-heartedly. “A person’s best bet is just getting in there and playing. Not being told what to do. Just get in there and get your feet wet and just play. Those have been the most beneficial experiences I’ve had in my growth from student into professional.”  Travis entered into a “whole new ball game” as he started taking auditions for professional orchestras. “It’s like a solo recital but you are playing orchestral excerpts…everything is on display just like a solo recital would be. But there’s a lot more at stake.”

Travis advanced to the semi-final round in the fall of 2009 at the audition for associate principal trumpet in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. “I was just floored about that. Just to have that as a vote of confidence means a ton. Something like that helps everything.” The winner of the audition at that time was a current member in the New World Symphony and left a vacancy that Travis was invited to fill.

Andrea and Travis drove down the coast to Miami in January 2010 looking forward to their next adventure. New World symphony helped Travis get his “feet wet with a lot of repertoire” and helped him make connections in an environment that fostered a higher level of growth than his alma maters. This proved to be a turning point in Travis’ quest to win an orchestra job. Through NWS Travis worked with Don Greene and Dr. Noa Kageyama regarding performance anxiety and sports psychology. “I skyped with Noa once or twice a week. He helped me learn how to handle my nerves at auditions. I worked with him all summer. He had me keep a journal and write down a practice log with what I was feeling about stuff. I kept diligent notes…I was just reading it the other day. They are still valuable to review.” That following fall Travis had his first opportunity to implement these knew performance psychology practices in an actual audition.

Travis Peterson

He advanced to the finals for the San Francisco Section Trumpet chair. “That was the beginning for me for throwing down at auditions.” Travis was only two years away from winning Principal Trumpet in Utah.

Similar to throwing himself into marching band, playing, and listening, Travis threw himself into auditioning. He decided to take every full time orchestra audition that came up. “For me… the only way to get more comfortable with the audition process is to take as many as I can. You are not going to get the same feeling in a mock audition because nothing is riding on a mock. You’re not going to feel the same tugs and pulls you would feel sitting on the stage in Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco sitting in this room playing for some of your friends. It’s just not the same.” He auditioned all over America – Charlotte, Charleston, Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, among others. He became frustrated with doing so well, advancing to finals and being named runner up, but never succeeding.

“The most frustrating moment was June 2012” when Travis auditioned for Seattle Symphony Associate Principal in an invitation only audition. It came down to Travis and one other candidate. The committee was equally split on votes so the decision lay in the hands of the Music Director who picked the other auditionee. “At that point I just thought the odds were never going to work out…I remember talking to Andrea on the phone just after that happened. I wasn’t ready to quit or throw in the towel…but something had to give. When was it going to stop? I was so sick of getting so close and being on the cusp of winning a job but it just wasn’t happening.” Andrea happened to be in SLC with her parents on a trip and encouraged Travis to focus on Utah and thought he would really enjoy living in this beautiful city. “I didn’t want to hear that and I didn’t know anything about Utah.” That summer Andrea and Travis celebrated their 5th wedding anniversary and traveled to Minnesota and Europe for a few weeks and took some time off. Travis began preparing for Utah and the leading up to the audition he had several lessons with Tom. Travis recalls one lesson late at night where he wasn’t feeling his best and Tom said, “You know Travis, I don’t want to be here either. But sometimes you just have to put a little bit of effort into it and get through something regardless of if you want to do it or not…you just have to bear down and do it. You can’t let these outside things get in the way of you trying to accomplish something.”

September 17, 2012 Travis took his 33rd audition. He recalled his “chops didn’t feel great” but he followed Tom’s words of wisdom and bore down and did it. After three rounds Travis won his current position as Principal Trumpet of the Utah Symphony. “The odds finally worked out in my favor.” After the decision was announced Travis met the audition committee and Thierry Fischer and was finally able to share his fantastic news with Andrea. He called Tom who had already heard, and his mother with the best birthday present from her son.

Travis Peterson

Travis is now a tenured member of the orchestra and he and Andrea are “in love with Utah.” Some of his favorite Utah Symphony performances have been Mahler’s Fifth Symphony last spring, Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony last year, the second performance of Mahler’s First Symphony this year, and Mahler’s Second Symphony. “It’s one of those pieces that I’ve always dreamed of playing. It was just transformative. [Mahler’s] music in general, to me, is music that I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of playing. It’s difficult to play but rewarding at the same time.” For Travis “it’s important to stay grounded in listening and finding the enjoyment because I don’t want to become a cynical musician. I don’t want to lose sight of the love of what we do. Because sometimes it is just a job. It is what it is…There have been a handful of days that I don’t want to play. My chops feel like crap or I’ve had too much salt the night before and my chops feel all puffy. Those are days that I don’t care for it, but that’s why I think it’s important to stay grounded in listening to music and enjoying it and finding the enjoyment in it all the time.”


EOS: A Ballet for Orchestra

EOS: A Ballet for Orchestra


Map of EOS by Augusta Read Thomas


(A dialogue between Utah Symphony Principal Librarian Clovis Lark and composer Augusta Read Thomas)

I first encountered Augusta Read Thomas’s music in April 1996 while I was Ensembles Librarian at Indiana University.  For a concert in April of that year, we prepared her Sinfonia for chamber orchestra.  Not long after that, while in Chicago, I happened to visit the Shedd Aquarium, a wonderful location for marine life on the edge of Lake Michigan, where a feature exhibit devoted to seahorses had Augusta’s Seahorse Symphony playing as background to the displays – and a CD of the Symphony, as performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, was for sale in the Aquarium gift shop.

My next encounter with her music was as a guest of Pierre Boulez for rehearsals and a performance of a MusicNow concert (MusicNow is the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s new music series which was imagined, established, led, and was also programmed by Augusta when she was Mead Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1996-2007).  Mr. Boulez was very excited about her new work In My Sky at Twilight, for soprano and chamber orchestra that was being premiered.  I sat in on the CD recording session and subsequent performance and later discussed the work with Mr. Boulez, which I felt was quite significant.  Boulez agreed enthusiastically. It was at this concert that I finally met Augusta and began our friendship.

Shortly after I joined the Utah Symphony, we invited Cliff Colnot, director of the Chicago MusicNow series, to conduct a concert of contemporary music with the Utah Symphony.  He and I both agreed that it would be a wonderful idea to include a premiere by Augusta on that program.  Augusta composed for us a new work entitled Terpsichore’s Dream which was first performed at the Rose Wagner Theater on October 18, 2007.  Now, just over seven years later, the Utah Symphony has commissioned and is premiering EOS a ballet for orchestra, Augusta’s latest composition for full orchestra.  This premiere is the first of three premieres by American composers that the Utah Symphony will be performing during 2015 as part of the orchestra’s 75th anniversary celebrations (A percussion concerto by Andrew Norman and a new work by Nico Muhly follow in November and December, respectively).

Thierry Fischer, Utah Symphony Music Director, spent considerable time over several years reviewing recent works by Augusta that I gave him before he found what “clicked” for him in her music.  This is one of the fascinating aspects of art.  One can look at many works, never getting the right sense of where one wants to go.  Suddenly, that key is found in a certain work and the rest all follow!  For Thierry, that key was Augusta’s 30-minute Cello Concerto No. 3 premiered by the Boston Symphony with Lynn Harrel as cello soloist with Christoph Eschenbach conducting.

Augusta was kind enough to speak with me about the upcoming premiere of EOS, which the Utah Symphony is performing February at Abravanel Hall February 20-21:

CL: Gusty, it is a real pleasure to be able to discuss your work, I thought we might find out about your career as a composer leading up to EOS. What inspired you to choose composition as a career and means of expression?

ART: Thank you, Clovis!  I am thrilled to be working with you, Maestro Fischer, and the Utah Symphony and look forward to our February world premiere!

From age 4 to 14, I took piano lessons and from age 8 all the way through college, I played trumpet and enrolled as a trumpet performance major in the Music School of Northwestern University.  Composing, singing in choir, and playing guitar were also part of my musical life and training.  Gradually, over about 20 years, I started to find composition more interesting than playing. I thought it was more fun to make everything up out of thin air rather than sit and play my one part. Steadily my composing evolved and bloomed.  I guess you could summarize by saying that my childhood was akin to a big, musical river morphing me into a composer as a result of twenty years of dedicated writing, practicing, performing and singing.  It was a natural, organic development into a life spent composing.  Since age 20, I have been composing every day with passion and dedication.

CL:  Certainly entering such an artistic discipline seems daunting from the outside. Did you have mentors or other composers who served as models as you refined your compositional voice?

ART: My gut reaction is to say, with a huge smile of gratitude on my face, that I have at least 1,000 mentors.  Music itself is definitely the most vital and sobering influence on my music. By that I mean that music of many periods and by different composers has fascinated and nurtured me since I was a child. I love deeply the music of J.S. Bach for its precision, amazing invention, it’s elegance, and the nobility and grandeur of its emotional spectrum. The musics of Byrd, Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, Debussy, Webern, Stravinsky, Ravel, Berio, Chopin, Bartok, and many kinds of jazz are all important to me. Also music of many, varied contemporary composers, writing in all styles. I listen a lot and the accomplishments of these predecessors and contemporaries of mine keep me focused and humble at the same time as they inspire me with confidence to think creatively.

I have learned a great deal from Pierre Boulez, Oliver Knussen, Christoph Eschenbach, Daniel Barenboim, and countless musicians with whom I have collaborated.

Literature, especially poetry, and the visual arts are also important sources of influence. Nature of course, is a real teacher.

CL:  You’ve written for a number of different sized ensembles. How does your approach differ when composing for a single instrument, as opposed to, say, a quartet, chorus, concerto or orchestral work?

ART: Fundamentally, to compose in any and all genres of music, the truly creative act springs from deep necessity. That welling up, inside, of musical ideas is so urgent. The first sensation is like a spark or lightning bolt – like lighting a match – and suddenly, poof, there’s an illumination, an inspiration, if you will. This glitter of energy might evoke a chord, a rhythm, a motive of a tune, which I will sing and ponder in relation to structure, form, synthesis etc. From there a macro-image and plan starts to emerge and one must understand how the musical idea unfolds and where it’s potential must lead.  A chamber or solo work requires different materials than, for instance, an orchestral work.

When writing for solo flute, or piano trio, or brass quintet, orchestra, or chorus, composers seek musical materials that “fit” the specific instrumentation.  Harmony, counterpoint, harmonic rhythm, color, flow, register, rhythm, dynamics, and so forth are all taken into aural imagination and consideration.

When one composes for orchestra, there is an inspiringly large palette of colors and possibilities.  I love it!!  How to keep the music clean and organized (and not sounding like a jumble of ideas thrown forth in a pile) depends on the quality and clarity of the initial musical ideas, their grace, and the skill and experience of the composer/orchestrator.

One very simple example: when writing for orchestra, a composer can cast wide, vast and rich harmonies, chords that span the whole range of a piano.  Such harmony could not be played by any soloist or duo.  On the other hand, the intimacy of a duo, one person per part, has a different feel than composing for orchestra where, for instance, we might hear 26 violins all playing the same line of music in unison.

As far as I’m concerned, “it is all good.”  I love to compose music for all kind of ensembles.  Composing is my life.

One of my great joys is to be building a varied catalogue of published compositions.   I like to compose for orchestra, then to compose a work for solo piano and then one for girls choir and then a huge cello concerto and then a work for mixed quintet.  — Keeps it all very fresh to vary to genres from piece to piece.

CL: You were Mead Composer-in-Residence from 1997 to 2006.  What did that entail and how has it influenced your work since?

ART: The Chicago Symphony Orchestra inspired, helped, and influenced me and being Mead Composer-in-Residence was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Working with Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra strengthened and encouraged my ever-continuing search for deeper musical understanding and sensitivity. Both men have steadfastly championed the music of our time. They seek the truth, essence, and soul of each composition, always with a supremely musical, sensitive technical skill.

While I was Mead Composer-in-Residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the orchestra commissioned and premiered 9 orchestral works; I presented about 45 pre-concert lectures each year; and I founded, curated and led the MusicNOW Series with my friend Cliff Colnot.  It was a very busy decade!

CL: The Utah Symphony is extremely proud that you accepted Thierry Fischer’s request to write a commission, our first U.S. Commission to be performed under his music directorship. There were really no limits, other than our ensemble’s size imposed upon you. So how did EOS arise?

ART: When Thierry Fischer and the Utah Symphony offered me this commission, I was smiling ear to ear.  –Very happy day!!  –I had a very rewarding 10 months composing the score!

For many years I have admired Maestro Fischer and, having had the chance to work with the Utah Symphony back in 2007, when I composed for them TERPSICHORE’S DREAM a ballet for chamber orchestra, I was delighted for the opportunity to make a new orchestral composition.  EOS (Goddess of the Dawn): a Ballet for Orchestra is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to Thierry Fischer and each member of the Utah Symphony and is in honor of Pierre Boulez.

The Utah Symphony prescribed duration and instrumentation, though the concept of our new work was left completely open to my imagination, which I appreciated deeply.

Writing for orchestra has been a 35-year passion for me so this commission reaches me at my core.

I was compelled to compose a second “Greek-themed” ballet, EOS (in seven sections played seamlessly) “painting the picture” of early dawn, the sun rising, and the shimmerings of a lively day.

Speaking very generally, EOS is in the form of a 17-minute crescendo.








CL: You are calling EOS a “Ballet for Orchestra”.  How does that differ from a ballet versus, say, a tone poem?

ART: EOS is a ballet and orchestral concert work.  Most composers these days are not lucky enough to have the equivalent of Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes to commission large orchestral works that will be danced, staged, costumed, and lit, which compositions paint clear poetic and or dramatic pictures.

The early Ballets of Igor Stravinsky (which are mostly played as concert works) have changed my life and have affected every note I have ever composed.  EOS reflects my knowledge of early Stravinsky (and many other Ballet composers) and reiterates my desire to work with dancers.

CL: Your remarks about ballet are so true.  Next season, we do Debussy’s ballet, Jeux, with the Ballet West.  However, virtually no ballet company has the pit facilities to engage the orchestra Debussy wrote for.  So Jeux has become primarily a concert work.

Clarity and detail abound throughout EOS.  I wonder if you could elaborate how you’ve picked your orchestral colors, techniques and highlights for the various sections of the piece.  What might a listener expect to hear?

ART: Thanks Clovis! – Yes, my scores are highly detailed and nuanced, every note having a dynamic, articulation and/or adjective. The notation explains exactly what I heard.  To give you an example, if I were rehearsing with a musician I might say, “This should be majestic” or “play here with a lightness of touch…” So why not write those down on the manuscript?

I feel responsible to present a commissioner with a lucid, nuanced artwork, not an amorphous blob. If I want the crescendo on the second beat, then I should notate it there. They’ll play it and they can also feel why the crescendo had to be right there – same with articulations and other nuances. It’s akin to a beautifully punctuated poem where you know exactly what the poet wanted and meant.

I like my music to be sculpted, skillfully edited and clean.  If I can present artists with an eloquent, fluent poem, then, with their sublime expertise, musicianship, years of training, they can take the sounds to a higher level. We start our journey together with a persuasive text and, with their technical instrumental brilliance, performers can spin and weave their inspired magic and make the music theirs – ‘tis not mine anymore.  Proofreading carefully is essential.

To the second part of your question, which is a huge and marvelous inquiry but might take me pages and pages to answer, let me summarize by saying that I compose by ear and that the orchestral colors are immediately present in my hearing and are deeply integrated in my thinking.  I do not “orchestrate” after the fact.  Rather I hear all the notes, rhythms and harmonies in color.  EOS is a very kaleidoscopic score, with solos for many players, shifts in rhythmic syntax, shifts in harmony and harmonic rhythm, with distinct sections that have unique moods.  There is, for instance, a playful section full of pizzicati in the strings and related sounds.  This section could never be confused with other sections.  Likewise, each section of this ballet has its own aura.

CL: As a follow-up question: Your works are very detailed and yet sound spontaneous….

ART: Thanks!  nuance – transformation – spontaneity – gestalt are four keywords that apply to all my music.

Although highly notated, precise, carefully structured, soundly proportioned, and while musicians are elegantly working from a nuanced, specific text, I like my music to have the feeling that it is organically being self-propelled – on the spot.  As if we listeners are overhearing a captured improvisation.

My music, which is organic and, at every level, concerned with transformations and connections, should be played so that the inner life of the different rhythmic, timbral and pitch syntaxes are made explicit and are then organically allied to one another with characterized phrasing of rhythm, color, harmony, counterpoint, tempo, keeping it alive – continuously sounding spontaneous.

All of this, hopefully, working toward the fundamental goal: to compose a work in which every musical parameter is allied in one holistic gestalt.

CL:  EOS is dedicated to Thierry Fischer and to each musician of the Utah Symphony.  There is another honoree, Pierre Boulez, who is celebrating his 90th birthday just 5 weeks after the premiere of EOS on 26 March.  You’ve already mentioned your connection to him while you were Composer-in-Residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  I’ve known Boulez as well since the late 1970’s, an incredible composer and visionary with an ability to absorb new music instantly.  I also remember that when you presented him with the piano etude “On Twilight – Homage to Boulez” he asked to see the score while it was played.  At the end, he flipped back to the first page, pointed to a note and said, “Shouldn’t that be a G#?”  And you looked over his shoulder, quite surprised, and agreed.  He chuckled. “I saw the pattern and knew it was a G#.”  Hans, his valet, leaned over to me and said, “He did that to Stravinsky too.” My response, “and…?” Hans, said, “He was right.” (You can see this encounter as a brief episode at minute 31 in the Stravinsky documentary on YouTube.)

ART:  This is exactly as I remember it too!

CL: Such an amazing ear and keen wit… Tell me about your relationship with Boulez.

ART:  For my whole life I have revered Mr. Boulez’s music, conducting, citizenship, humanity, grace, intellect, writings, and generosity.  He is a great person.

With the Chicago Symphony, Mr. Boulez conducted the world premiere of my WORDS OF THE SEA for orchestra; CONCERTO FOR ORCHESTRA “orbital beacons” for orchestra; and IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT for soprano and chamber orchestra all of which are released on commercial CD by Nimbus Records as performed by Mr. Boulez and the CSO.

He also programmed IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT in Lucerne and he programmed HELIOS CHOROS III for orchestra with the Orchestra of Paris on a Boulez Festival.

His support of my work inspires me to keep working hard and I am forever and ever indebted to Mr. Boulez.  He is a very kind, gentle, refined, visionary, committed, and musical person.  His resolve for things in which he believes is vivid and is vastly influential worldwide.

CL: Boulez certainly has been more than a seminal composer and first class conductor.  He has always had time to mentor, teach and compassionately listen to others, offering clear, concise advice.  I note you have an extremely hectic schedule; you are on the road pretty much non-stop and we’ve been holding this conversation in between your numerous engagements.  What are your upcoming projects?

ART: Thank you for asking.  Yes, my schedule is always active and demanding.  I feel grateful to be so busy.  For the love of music, rising at 4 AM and working from 4:30 AM until 9:30 PM brings me joy each day; working vigorously for music is an honor and a privilege.

Selected immediate forthcoming projects and concerts include:

March 5, 2015: WORLD PREMIERESELENE for percussion quartet and string quartet, will be performed by JACK Quartet and Third Coast Percussion on a “Portrait Concert” at Miller Theatre at Columbia University.

April 10, 2015: WORLD PREMIERE HELIX SPIRALS for string quartet premiered by the Parker Quartet at Harvard University.

July 7, 2015: WORLD PREMIERE NEW WORK for Aurora Orchestra with Claire Booth, soprano commissioned by Wigmore Hall with the support of André Hoffmann, president of the Fondation Hoffmann, a Swiss grant-making foundation.

February 20, 2015: The BBC Singers are performing JUGGLER OF DAY at St Paul’s Knightsbridge in London. The concert will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 at 7:30pm UK time — it will be available to stream live on the BBC Radio 3 website.

On March 22nd, National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, Third Coast Percussion will perform RESOUNDING EARTH, a composition scored for approximately 300 pieces of metal, featuring 120 bells from a wide variety of cultures and historical periods.

May 8 and 9, 2015: CELLO CONCERTO #3, Lynn Harrell, cello, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Hannu Lintu, conductor

July 9, 2015: EUROPEAN PREMIERE World Saxophone Congress – Strasbourg, France: HEMKE CONCERTO “PRISMS OF LIGHT” for alto saxophone and orchestra, Timothy McAllister, soloist with the Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra.

CL: And you have a significant new administrative project as well…

ART:  Yes, and this really is important. I am spearheading EAR TAXI FESTIVAL.  A 4-day-long new music festival celebrating the vital new music scene in Chicago. It incudes performances by the city’s amazing new music ensembles and musicians, and features the music of the city’s composers. The festival is made possible, in part, by major support from the Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University. Assuming leadership of this new festival has already consumed about 3 hours each day over the past year.

CL:  Gusty, this conversation has been a real pleasure.  And thank you for taking time away from your work to share your thoughts.

ART: Thank you!