Going Beyond the Baton: A Conversation with Ignat Solzhenitsyn

Ignat Solzhenitsyn’s name is way more intimidating than he is. Ignat is a Starbucks-drinking, football-watching, dare I say it, All-American Boy, but definitely one who has not forgotten his Russian roots. Ginamarie, our marketing communications manager, and I (Traci) sat down with him today to talk about … well, everything. We had an excellent conversation that briefly touched on his performance this weekend. Our questions were with purpose: we wanted the scoop, we wanted the information that no one else knows, we wanted to know what dwells beyond the biography that you can find on his website.

Ignat Solzhenitsyn

Ignat Solzhenitsyn

In an attempt to organize our conversation into what appears to be a normal interview, I tried to divide the information into categories, but everything mushed together. So here is our interview, in all its random glory.

Traci: Welcome to Utah (It is Ignat’s debut with the Utah Symphony, but he has been here before). How are you enjoying it?
Ignat: It’s wonderful. Great weather and gorgeous views.
Ginamarie: Will you have time to get out and visit the mountains while you’re here?
Ignat: I wish I could. I definitely do not have time. I am playing and conducting this weekend, plus I am doing the Masterclass. I’ll walk around the city though; see things around here.
Ginamarie: Are there any places you’re looking forward to eating at here?
Ignat: I don’t eat when I have a performance. Not that much. I feel like I am dull with too much food, so I try not to eat too much. The less I eat, the sharper my mind is for a performance.

Right here, our talk somehow weaved into the questions I had prepared. I wish I had a picture of Ignat’s face and his smirk when he heard some of our questions.

Traci: What is your guilty pleasure?
Ignat: Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Caramel Fudge.
Traci: Since we’re discussing food, thinking of everywhere you have traveled, what have been your favorite things to eat?
Ignat: It’s not a favorite thing, but a favorite place. Italy. It doesn’t matter if the restaurant is listed in a travel guide. It doesn’t matter what restaurant, but just someplace in Italy. Their food is always good. Bread, appetizers, desserts, coffee. The Italian meal is an experience. I never want the meal to end.
Traci: What is the strangest thing you have eaten?
Ignat: Anything slippery or slimy. Probably some species of eel. And in Norway, at a fancy restaurant with an esteemed chef, I had whale and reindeer. Whale is blubbery and slimy.

At this point, we decided that we should all go to Italy and see if we could get reimbursed for the travel afterward. I really wish I had written down or recorded the transitions between questions, because somehow, after discussing food, we ended up talking about Ignat’s parents. Ignat’s father is Alexandr Solzhenitsyn who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970.

Ginamarie: We know that you are very proud of your heritage and your father, but parents are parents. Have they ever done anything incredibly embarrassing?
Ignat: My father never did, that I can recall, but my mother. I remember one time very vividly. I was performing at the December Evenings Festival in Moscow. The museum had no dressing room, so when I was through performing, I was trying to make my way past everyone to a place where I could change. I took off my tailcoat and threw it over my arm, because it was so hot in the building. My mother went ballistic. She charged through the crowd and in front of 800 people berated me. “You cannot be in public without a jacket!” She went on and on. I was not a child or even 18, but I was in my twenties. That was the most embarrassing moment.

There was no segue into the next topic, just a normal lull in the conversation for me to ask a question.

Traci: Is there a TV show that you absolutely have to watch?
Ignat: Homeland. I’m all caught up with the 4 seasons which, with my schedule, is a great feat.
Traci: How do you keep updated on the show?
Ignat: Homeland is on Showtime and they have an app that has all their shows. They make it easy.
Ginamarie: Any other shows?
Ignat: Inside the NFL. I’m a sports fan.
Ginamarie: What are your favorite teams?
Ignat: The New York Yankees.
(Traci makes a face.)
Ignat: No one out here likes the Yankees.
Traci: Well, you’re from New York.
Ignat: Vermont, actually. And my brother was a Red Sox fan, and I cannot like anything my brother likes.

What followed was a fabulous discussion on baseball, one about how the Angels (my favorite) got swept and the Royals came out of nowhere, and who likes the Giants anyway, and what would happen to the game if it was only seven innings instead of nine. Ignat is rooting for the Royals.

Ginamarie: What about football teams?
Ignat: I am a Jets fan.
Traci: You’re almost setting yourself up for a lifetime of disappointment.
Ignat: I know. My kids are Jets fans, and I apologize to them all the time. I tell them that someday, their children’s grandchildren will one day see the Jets win a Superbowl.

While these topics were definitely far from the norm of questions we ask our guest conductors and players, Ignat did not seem to mind, so full steam ahead, we continued with our unorthodox questioning.

Traci: What are 3 things our audience does not know about you?
Ignat: Well, I like numbers and memorizing things.
Ginamarie: Like mathematics?
Ignat: No, more like things in lists. I like to memorize dates, and I have all the Beethoven’s opus numbers memorized. I know all the World Series matchups back to 1903. I memorize states and capitals and obscure facts. Things like that.
Traci: And number 2?
Ignat: I always read a book before bed. No matter how early I have to get up in the morning or what my schedule is that day or the next day. I always read.
Ginamarie: What genre?
Ignat: Fiction.
Traci: What do you like to read?
Ignat: Great literature. I am 42 years old and I feel like there is so much I am missing and I have to read all of it because how much of it will I miss in the next 42 years.
Ginamarie: Do you have any recommendations?
Ignat: Cormac McCarthy. He has such a way with language, the way he crafts his stories and the vocabulary and style he writes. I don’t think I would even care about the story, just read it knowing he wrote it.
Traci: Any specifics by him?
Ignat: “The Road” and “Blood Meridian,” which has such an open ending that I still don’t know what’s going on. What about recommendations for me?’
Traci: Have you read “House of Leaves” by Mark Danielewski?

At this point, Ginamarie freaks out because she had no idea that I had read that book, and what follows is the two of us going a little fanatic trying to explain “House of Leaves” to Ignat. It’s a great book, and he put it in his queue.

We also got distracted from the list of three, so I pulled it back with a “What were we doing? Oh right.”

Ignat: Number three, I guess, is that I like to watch people on the subway. I don’t make up stories or really wonder what they’re doing or where they are going, I just like to sit and watch, even if I have my own work to do or a score to study.

Music seems to be a topic that we have to discuss, which brings us to the last things we talked about.

Traci: What is on your iPod?
Ignat: I would say about 95 percent of it is classical music.
Ginamarie: And the rest?

Ignat takes out his iPod and goes to a melodious song sung by a man with a deep voice and a guitar. It is in Russian.

Ignat: This music is from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. They are called “Bards.” A bard is a poet with a guitar and that is what these men are. They sang poetry. Their music was subversive to the Soviet control. It was not the right kind nor politically approved. There are still Bards in Russia. It is music that I have always enjoyed.

I recently studied up on Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 7 (which Ignat will be conducting this weekend). Symphony No. 7 is sometimes referred to Prokofiev’s “simple symphony.” Because Prokofiev too produced music that was not in line with the political party at the time, he was stripped of his reputation and wrote Symphony No. 7 while he was poor. I asked Ignat about the music.

Ignat: It is so much different than [symphonies] No. 5 and No. 6. It’s simpler, but it’s missing Prokofiev’s art because it attempted to fit within the Soviet policies regarding music. But it was only an attempt and is full of Prokofiev’s emotions at the time. I believe that despite its exterior contempt for conformism, it’s a jewel underneath.

We wrapped up our conversation after that, saying it was time for our own afternoon coffee as Ignat sipped at a Starbucks cup.

Traci: What is your selection of choice?
Ignat: Carmel Macchiato. Always. The first question I ask when someone asks if I need anything is “Is there a Starbucks nearby?”

It was very difficult to leave. I feel like Ginamarie and I could have talked to Ignat all day long without the conversation feeling forced or contrived. We had a lot of fun with him. Maybe next time we’ll get a selfie.

I am lucky enough that I will be seeing Ignat again, but this time as an audience member. I will be at Saturday’s show, ready to see him conduct and play all at the same time. It’s going to be great!

For ticket information, click here.

Pardon Our Dust: Abravanel Hall Plaza Construction

The plaza in front of Abravanel Hall is getting a much needed makeover this year. Most of the concrete and the fountain in the front will be removed to make way for new greenery, sidewalks and walkways. The new plans call for better lighting and sign fixtures as well as grey and white concrete with accents in warm tones including browns and gold.

Abravanel Hall Courtyard

Abravanel Hall Courtyard

Abravanel Hall Courtyard

Abravanel Hall Courtyard

This does mean that access to the plaza and east entrance to the lobby will be cut off until Spring 2015. A safety fence will stretch along South Temple, West Temple and the lawn, removing access through the front doors. Fortunately, there’s more than one way to enter Abravanel Hall. There are three entrances to the lobby of Abravanel Hall. To enter directly into the lobby and bypass the congestion at the ticket office, go up the stairs near the ticket office and enter through the doors on the lobby’s west side. Another option is the main entrance to the ticket office, which can be found on the north side, with access from South Temple. If you already have your tickets and want to avoid the stairs by taking the elevator, we recommend going down the alley on the west side of the building entering through the west doors. The UTA Temple Square Trax stop is located right across from Abravanel Hall and there is a crosswalk to the west that will take you directly to the entrances which will be open. If you have difficulties walking or navigating, we suggest that you park near the Salt Palace or at the Plaza Hotel.


Abravanel Hall Entry Map

Abravanel Hall Entry Map during Construction

The plaza will be closed through Spring 2015, so please plan your trips accordingly.

If you have any problems with getting into Abravanel Hall, call the ticket office for detailed descriptions on perfect parking areas and entering the Hall during construction.

Abravanel Memories: Bonnie Mangold

Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler

This is the first post in our Mahler Memories Series, which will provide highlights from oral histories of Utah Symphony musicians who played under Maestro Maurice Abravanel. During interviews conducted during the 2014-15 season, these musicians recalled their days making music with Maestro Abravanel , especially during the period of recording the Mahler symphonies. The complete oral histories will be archived in the McKay Music Library in the school of Music at the University of Utah.

Contine reading

Zoos, Arts, and Parks are Good Things

Salt Lake County has a wide-ranging selection of popular activities and adventures from roughing it on an overnight backpacking trip through the forest to dressing up for a night at the symphony. Children and families can explore Utah’s Hogle Zoo, picnic at Utah’s city parks, and ride bikes along the county’s trails and parkways. This level of diversity exists because it is what the community of Salt Lake County wants, and there has been no bigger proof of that than the two-time voter approval of of the Zoo, Arts, and Parks (ZAP) program. The approval of this program provides support to more than 160 arts, cultural, and zoological organizations, 17 recreation centers, and 13 parks and trails.

ZAP helps fund cultural activities for over 7 million people and helps give free admission to ZAP funded organizations. This money goes directly to funding organizations like Ballet West, the Utah Arts Festival, This is the Place Heritage Park, The Tracy Aviary, Utah Symphony | Utah Opera, and many more. Here, at Utah Symphony | Utah Opera, we are very grateful for the community’s express interest in supporting cultural activities and organizations throughout the county.

ZAP Logo

Renew ZAP – Let’s Keep a Good Thing Going


How does ZAP work?

When you pay sales tax, 1 penny for every $10 purchase (or a dime on a hundred dollar purchase) benefits Salt Lake County’s cultural organizations and recreational sites through the ZAP program. What that means is every time you spend $10 in gas or groceries (or practically anything that has sales tax), one penny goes into the ZAP program.

ZAP was first approved by Salt Lake County voters in 1996, was renewed by voters in 2004, and will expire at the end of 2016. This November, the ZAP program is up for renewal and it is up to us to approve it again.


What do I need to look for on the Ballot?

When you go to the ballots, pay attention to “County Proposal #1,” which is the renewal for the ZAP program. Voting language can be a little convoluted, so keep your eyes open for the word “shall.” The language used poses this program  renewal as the question “Should we renew ZAP?” and explains all the benefits behind it. The following is the wording from the ballot under “County Proposal #1.”

Shall Salt Lake County, Utah, be authorized to impose a 0.1% sales and use tax for the purpose of funding recreational, cultural, and zoological facilities located within Salt Lake County as well as ongoing operating expenses of recreational facilities and botanical, cultural, and zoological organizations, such as the following:

1. Publicly owned or operated parks, campgrounds, playgrounds, athletic fields, gymnasiums, swimming pools, and trails, or other facilities used for recreational purposes; and
2. Non-profit organizations, institutions, and municipal or county cultural councils having as a primary purpose the advancement and preservation of natural history, art, music, theater, dance, or cultural arts; and
3. Non-profit organizations having as a primary purpose the advancement and preservation of plant science or zoology through display, research, exhibition, and community education?


The final part of the ballot is where you actually vote for the ZAP renewal. Make sure you mark the one you mean to mark!

To vote in favor of the Zoo, Arts and Parks (“ZAP”) sales and use tax, select the box immediately adjacent to the words “FOR THE ZAP TAX.”
To vote against the Zoo, Arts and Parks (“ZAP”) sales and use tax, select the box immediately adjacent to the words “AGAINST THE ZAP TAX.”

ZAP logo

Vote for County Prop. #1


When do I vote?

Here are some important voting dates that you should remember:

Election Date

  • Tuesday, November 4

Voter Registration deadlines

  • Mail-In Registration: Monday, October 6
  • In-person/Online Registration: Tuesday, October 28

Voting options

  • In-Office Voting Period: October 6-31 (weekdays)
  • Early Voting Period: October 21-31 (weekdays)
  • Absentee Voting Deadline Last Day to Apply: Thursday, October 30


For more information about the ZAP program, you can visit the official website www.renewzap.com or go to the facebook page.

Let’s keep a good thing going and renew the ZAP program!


Romanticism Part II

Musical Romanticism

The music of the nineteenth century reflects many of the traits of literary Romanticism. Music aestheticians, as well as the noted philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, argued over the exact nature of musical “content” and whether music may contain emotion; nevertheless, most listeners hear a directness of emotional expression in Romantic music. This results from the emphasis composers placed on gradations in volume, variety in instrumental tone color, and expansion of the harmonic palette through the increased use of both dissonance and chromaticism.  Extreme contrasts within these elements result in constant fluctuation in mood, which the liberties in tempo caused by the use of rubato only serve to heighten.

In order to accommodate the changes in affect typical of Romantic style, composers found themselves penning longer compositions.  While a complete symphony by Mozart or Haydn averages approximately twenty minutes in length, Beethoven reaches around thirty minutes beginning with his “Eroica” Symphony of 1803 (and his Ninth Symphony of 1822-24 extends to nearly one hour).  After all, the stereotypical Beethoven affective trajectory traces a path from tragedy, through struggle, to victory within a single movement, and each of these sentiments warrants extended musical presentation so that the listener has adequate time to perceive it.  And as later composers explored other, unique emotional journeys in their works, pieces grew to even greater lengths.  By the end of the century, the symphonies of writers like Bruckner and Mahler, for example, usually run well over an hour.

Contine reading

Romanticism Part I

Historical Background and Literary Romanticism

“Liberty in Art, liberty in Society, behold the double end towards which consistent and logical minds should tend; behold the double banner that rallies the intelligence.”

Victor Hugo penned these words in the preface to his 1830 play Hernani, and with them, he suggests that Romantic literature reflects the cultural and political turmoil nineteenth-century Europe was experiencing.  The storming of the Bastille in 1789 had heralded major political change for the continent.  The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars initiated a series of revolutionary conflicts—including additional pan-European uprisings in 1830 and 1848—that would ultimately lead to the dissolution of many hereditary monarchies.  As more democratic forms of government emerged to take their place, international hostilities like the Crimean War (1853-56) weakened the spheres of influence granted to France, Austria, Britain, and Russia following the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. These shifts in the balance of power, combined with the nascent nationalist sentiment prompted by the Napoleonic Wars, effected a reconfiguration of the continent’s map: Greece (1821-32), Italy (1848-66), and Hungary (1848) took up arms against their foreign oppressors in hopes of securing independence, while Prussia used wars against Austria (1866) and France (1870) to achieve its vision of a unified Germany(1871).

Contine reading

Romantics Terminology

Chromaticism, Chromatic
Using notes outside the selected major or minor scale/key. For example, the C-major scale uses the pitches C, D, E, F, G, A, and. B If a composer temporarily choses the notes C sharp, G flat, B flat, etc. while writing in the key of C major, this represents chromaticism.

Knaben Wunderhorn, Des (The Boy’s Magic Horn)
A collection of German folk poetry brought together by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano and published in three volumes between 1805 and 1808. As editors, however, Arnim and Bretano made significant alterations to the poems; they therefore no long constitute “authentic” folk materials.

The more than 700 texts in the collection inspired many composers, with Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, R. Strauss, and most notably Mahler setting individual poems as songs. Mahler, in turn, embedded these songs in his Second through Fourth Symphonies, as well as setting further Wunderhorn texts in their vocal movements.

Contine reading

7 Teenagers who are Making Their Dreams Come True

Congratulations to the seven soloists who have been selected to perform in the 55th Annual Salute to Youth concert next week on September 30! One of our core missions at Utah Symphony | Utah Opera is to reach out to the community and to students. With this goal in mind, it brings us a wealth of joy to see such talented musicians vie for the starring spots in this concert

Associate Conductor Vladimir Kulenovic, jury member during the selection process and conductor for the concert, said, “It is one of the greatest and most rewarding experiences as a conductor to give back to the next generation of aspiring soloists. We have enormous talent here in Utah and we are very proud to cultivate it to the highest level.”

These students worked hard to hone their skills and come out on top, and the selection process was just as difficult for us. This year, the seven winners who will be performing at the Salute to Youth concert are Shenae Anderson, Sanne Christensen, Rebecca Epperson, Karen Ferry, Maggie Ivory, Michael Marsden, and Caroline Richards.

Salute to Youth Finalists

Salute to Youth Finalists: (Back row L-R) Maggie, Rebecca, Sanne, Shenae (Front row L-R) Karen, Michael, Caroline

Contine reading

Something’s Amiss at Abravanel Hall

This weekend’s symphony performance is quite strange. The second half, after the intermission, will be familiar with the symphony playing as usual and pianist Yefim Bronfman performing Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2. But it’s the first half that may have you thinking that something is amiss.

The stage will appear normal, with at least 60 chairs set up on stage at Abravanel Hall.

stage set up

Stage set up at Abravanel Hall

But the first clue that something is up will be when the musicians take their seats, and you don’t see any violins, violas, cellos or bass, and instead you’ll only see flutes, trumpets, trombones, tubas, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and horns.

Don’t worry. It’s all planned and the string players aren’t just all really late.

Contine reading

The Mario Generation

I am part of the group collectively called Generation Y. We’re also called the Millennials and the Peter Pan generation (for the peculiarity to stay at home longer, get a job later, and … you know, not grow up in the same ways of our parents). We are a generation of democratic and political change, and we are less likely to practice religion and more likely to discuss controversial topics.

But I like to call us the Mario Generation: the first generation of game consoles and fantasy quests. (There were those before us who pioneered arcade and computer games, but it wasn’t until the late 1970s and 1980s that the games were available to the masses.)

My family had a Nintendo in the 1980s. I remember my older brother and cousins making fun of me because I kept jerking the remote up and to the right whenever I wanted Mario to jump over a crevasse or my rider in Excitebike to make it over a hill. “That’s not going to make you jump further, dummy!” (It does now, though, thank you Wii).

Contine reading