The Legacy of Camille Saint-Saëns

Utah Symphony Artist Logistics Coordinator Erin Lunsford takes care of the many guest artists and guest conductors that perform with the orchestra. She holds a Bachelor of Music in Bassoon Performance from the University of North Carolina, and still enjoys playing bassoon and studying music history in her spare time.  

LEGACY OF A CARNIVAL

When one thinks of the music of 19th-century French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), what comes to mind? Perhaps the sultry Middle Eastern melodies of Samson et Delila, or the triumphant, brassy finale of the “Organ” Symphony. Perhaps even the glittery, whimsical tunes that permeate Carnival of the Animals. These are all fantastic examples of Saint-Saëns’ unmatched musical style, but there is so much more to this composer than his few most famous works.

Saint-Saëns left an immense musical legacy behind, having written five symphonies, five piano concertos, several operas (and operettas), incidental music, a wide breadth of chamber music, and numerous works for solo piano and solo organ. The Saint-Saëns Project focuses mainly on the composer’s five symphonies; only one of which is regularly performed by American orchestras (Symphony No. 3, his final attempt at the form). Additionally, the Utah Symphony will record some of his more well-known, shorter orchestral works, including Bacchanale from Samson et Delila, Danse macabre, and ‒ perhaps his most famous work of all ‒ Carnival of the Animals.

Saint-Saëns occupied a particularly unique stylistic space in his compositions; bringing the influences of the composers he most admired (Liszt, Wagner, Mendelssohn, and Beethoven, to name a few) as well as the musical idioms of far-flung destinations (including Egypt, Algeria, and Japan) into the sphere of French Romanticism. Similar to the Romantic Movement that took hold in Austria and Germany in the mid-1800s, French Romanticism was marked by a preoccupation with drama on a historical and an individual level, a heightened interest in national identity, and a general expansion or rejection of existing musical structures. As some of his late-19th-century contemporaries were forging new paths at the edges of tonal music, Saint-Saëns was firmly rooted in the classical conventions of French composers before him, making him an unusual figure within the framework of the Romantic period. Despite this, his signature use of colorful harmony influenced the French Impressionist composers that would rise to popularity toward the end of his life. The confluence of these seemingly disparate stylistic attributes is what makes Saint-Saëns’ music so intoxicating and irresistible. He is able to seamlessly weave unusual, exotic harmonies and melodic lines into ingrained musical forms, simultaneously surprising and delighting the listener’s ear.

SAINT-SAЁNS RECORDING CYCLE

Saint-Saëns’ music is clearly worth learning and exploring, but why record so much of it? As our Vice President of Operations and General Manager, Jeff Counts, wrote in a playbill feature last year, recording raises the level of artistic excellence and focus in an ensemble. Beyond that, recording also allows an orchestra to put its distinct interpretation of a work into the world, to stand and be judged among other orchestras’ interpretations. In the case of Saint-Saëns, however, some works have rarely been recorded at all. For example, his Trois tableaux symphoniques après La foi – another non-symphonic orchestral work that will be included in the recording project – has been commercially recorded less than ten times. This recording project on European label, Hyperion, will make the Utah Symphony the first American orchestra to record all of Saint-Saëns’ five symphonies, giving the orchestra the extraordinary opportunity to become a leading voice in the interpretation of Saint-Saëns’ works.

While many contemporaries and students of Saint-Saëns considered him to be a genius, his influence is certainly felt less in the orchestral world today.  For this reason, recording three discs worth of his music will be no easy feat, especially because this music is both technically and artistically difficult. Due to the logistical challenges of live recording, most of the repertoire that will be recorded is piled into consecutive weeks. Recording weeks are exhausting, as players are operating at the highest possible level of artistic awareness. Nevertheless, our musicians are certainly up to the task. Over the past five seasons, the Utah Symphony has taken on many symphonic cycles, covering some of the most revered symphonists in history (Beethoven and Brahms) as well as composers who challenged the very idea of what defined a symphony (Mahler and Ives). It is now time to shift the focus to a composer whose works, as Music Director Thierry Fischer has pointed out, truly embody the artistic identity of the Utah Symphony in their audacity, spunk, excellence, bravery, creativity, and – perhaps most importantly – their balance between tradition and diversity. How fitting a challenge to further Saint-Saëns’ legacy.

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Pre-concert Rituals: William Hagen

Professional musicians often spend much of their lives on the road performing in concert venues around the globe. Amid the hectic travel schedules, rehearsals, practice time and adjustments to a different time zone, culture and climate, regular routine is sacrificed. We ask our guest artists to share what pre-concert rituals help keep them grounded. Here is what violinist and Utah native William Hagen had to say about his.

William Hagen, violin

My first instinct, when asked about a pre-concert ritual or routine, is to say that I have none, or that I’m still working on figuring out what mine is. However, I realize that there are two things that I do very consistently on concert days; the first is to make sure that I have reasonably good blood sugar when I walk on stage. I have Type 1 Diabetes, so I have to be aware of what’s going on with my body before a concert. To lower the risk of high or low blood sugar, I try to stick to low-carb food and I try not to eat 3-4 hours before a concert—this simplifies things and makes my blood sugar more stable and predictable. The second part of my routine is to make sure that I have no wardrobe malfunctions – there are many components of a tux that can go awry. Actually, there are many components of any kind of concert garb that can go (and have gone) awry. I’ve heard stories about people walking on stage in a suave tux, everything in order, only to look down for a moment to find that they are wearing white sneakers. What a performer is wearing really doesn’t matter too much to me, because the main focus should be the music, but a wardrobe malfunction can turn into a major distraction. It’s hard to take someone completely seriously when their fly’s down.

See William Hagen in Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances November 3-4, 2017 here.

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Pre-concert Rituals: Patricia Kopatchinskaja

Patricia Kopatchinskaja Photo: Marco Borggreve

Professional musicians often spend much of their lives on the road performing in concert venues around the globe. Amid the hectic travel schedules, rehearsals, practice time and adjustments to a different time zone, culture and climate, regular routine is sacrificed. We ask our guest artists to share what pre-concert rituals help keep them grounded. Here is what Patricia Kopatchinskaja who will perform with us in Fischer conducts Beethoven’s Fifth had to say about her pre-concert ritual.

The performing artist has to present a work of art. Her duty is to give this work the maximum of impact. To achieve this, the performer has to channel all her energies, all her talents, power, and personality into this performance. One could say that the performer has somehow to ‘become’ the piece.

Of course, the performer has to know the piece: its score, its history. She has to have the technique ready, which is the task of a lifetime. But most important is to carry in her heart and mind — her very personal and unrepeatable vision of the piece.

On performance day I try to avoid any distraction: no telephones, no visits, no interviews, no photo sessions, no bad news. On a nice day after breakfast I might jog outside for half an hour and then I might practice perhaps for half an hour, but one never should expend too much energy because it will be needed in the evening. The most important is the nap in the afternoon. There will perhaps be a stage or a microphone rehearsal but normally I just stay in the artist room and concentrate. I cannot eat before concerts, but I need half a banana and something to drink. And then I am ready for battle…

See what else Patricia had to say about her work here.

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Four divas. One stage.

Is there room on stage for more than one diva? In our opinion, the more the merrier! Our Broadway Divas concert will be one to remember because four incredibly talented women will share the stage October 27 and 28.

Get to know more about these incredible vocalists and hear previews of their music in the videos below.

N’Kenge

There is no challenge this Bronx, NY native won’t take on. Her diverse repertoire covers 11 languages and about every musical genre you can think of. We think this rendition of “I Feel Pretty” from Bernstein’s West Side Story is particularly electrifying!

Christina DeCicco

Christina DeCicco is no stranger to the stage. She has recently performed in Broadway classics such as Evita and Wicked and is now coming to serenade us. We couldn’t resist this video of her performing Cabaret in a cabaret.

Christina Bianco

Move over Barbara Streisand because there’s a new Funny Girl in town. Not only does she have an enviable singing voice, but she can do hilariously accurate impressions of other singers—just take a look at her guest appearance on Ellen.

Kristen Plumley

Kristen Plumley can do it all. She has performed in operas as well as in pops classics such as Oklahoma! and Brigadoon. It’s never too early for the holidays, so watch this clip of one of her holiday concerts from a few years ago.

You won’t want to miss Broadway Divas! Get your tickets here.

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