Classical music you didn’t know you loved: “Also sprach Zarathustra”

For some people, classical music might feel elusive and mysterious. While there is so much great classical music out there, it’s hard to keep it all straight. For example, perhaps you’ve heard a piece you like in a commercial or a television show, but you don’t know the name of it or even who composed it. You might want to add the piece to a playlist, but you don’t even know where to start looking.

This series of articles is here to set you straight. We are here to demystify all of the classical music you didn’t know you already loved.

This season we are performing Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra. The name may have you scratching your head, but you are sure to recognize the first section of this piece.

If you are at all familiar with the 1968 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, you probably recognize this as the main theme of the movie. This theme, which was meant to depict the sunrise, is used very appropriately to mark the beginning of a new era for the hominids depicted in the film.

With a beginning that exciting, you would think that the rest of Strauss’ tone poem would be equally as amazing—and you would be right.

Don’t miss us perform this thrilling and recognizable piece. Get your tickets here.

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Contemporary music and the modern American orchestra

Composer Andrew Norman.

As the Utah Symphony closes out its 2017-18 season and we begin to look ahead to the 2018-19 season, it’s hard to miss this organization’s commitment to presenting contemporary music alongside well-known favorites from the Western Canon. Beside familiar figures like Beethoven, Chopin, Copland, and Richard Strauss are newer, more unfamiliar names, like Vivian Fung, Joan Tower, Zhou Tian, and Andrew Norman (who happens to be our composer-in-association next season). One of Music Director Thierry Fischer’s favorite sayings is “a symphony is not a museum,” and presenting and commissioning new music is an integral part of this belief.

Orchestral music is a living, breathing art form. While the focus of most orchestras’ classical seasons lies in the heart of the most eminent 18th– through 20th-century repertoire, it is essential for the survival of the orchestral industry for modern orchestras to perpetuate the musical movements happening in the present day. If the American Orchestra is to remain a driving force in the centuries to come, we must support the composers who are creating new music now, as this body of work will one day be an essential part of our cultural legacy. To that end, the Utah Symphony commissions at least one new work each season, meaning we pay a composer to write something entirely new. The Utah Symphony often shares the full fee with co-commissioners, ensuring the work will have a life beyond our organization with other orchestras across the country and the world. As in every art form, some of these works go on to achieve great success and popularity, and others slip into obscurity. It’s a risky process given that some of the fee is usually paid before a single note is put to paper, but it is well worth the risk. Regardless of the outcome, the Utah Symphony has been instrumental in bringing a new piece of orchestral music into the world.

Incentivizing the creation of new music isn’t the only reward for an orchestra that makes commissioning a priority. Contemporary music is also able to engage with modern ideas and themes more directly than older works can. As an example, Andrew Norman’s percussion concerto Switch, which was commissioned by the Utah Symphony as part of its 75th anniversary season, takes its inspiration from video game logic, the percussion soloist starring as the unwitting protagonist. Each note he plays prompts a distinguishable reaction from the orchestra, creating a unique cause-and-effect tapestry with a modern sensibility. Next season, the Utah Symphony will feature another of Norman’s works, Play, which takes its inspiration from distinctly relevant themes. Norman himself describes the work as an exploration of “choice, chance, free will, and control, about how technology has rewired our brains and changed the ways we express ourselves, about the blurring boundaries of reality in the internet age, the murky grounds where video games and drone warfare meet, for instance, or where cyber-bullying and real-world violence converge.”

This season’s commission, to be performed on the Utah Symphony’s Season Finale concerts on May 26 and 27, comes from pioneering French composer Tristan Murail. One of the most prominent themes of this Utah Symphony season has been its study of the works of Romantic-era French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, making this commission especially relevant; Murail’s work represents the trajectory of French music from Saint-Saëns’ Romanticism and Debussy’s Impressionism into the modern era. In this work, listen for Murail’s signature use of the “spectral” technique, a compositional aesthetic developed in the 1970s. Spectral technique focuses on the color, timbre, and texture of different instruments and pitches, concentrating less on melody and rhythm and more on the acoustical science of sound. This shifting focus changes the way we as listeners engage with music, opening up a whole new world of possibilities while not entirely letting go of our musical foundations. In the words of Maestro Fischer, the Utah Symphony strives to be “an orchestra looking to the future as much as immensely enjoying the past.”

Utah Symphony Artist Logistics Coordinator Erin Lunsford takes care of the many guest artists and guest conductors that perform with the orchestra and enjoys writing about music in her spare time.

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Pre-Concert Rituals: Brant Bayless

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 asked two of our principal musicians who have prominent solo roles to share what pre-concert rituals help keep them grounded.

Spoiler alert: I don’t have a pre-concert routine. I mostly have pre-concert chaos, depending on the daily specifics of family life and the whereabouts of my wife, whose time, really, I share with the members of her Fry Street String Quartet. Some evenings I’ll be driving in from our home in Logan, fighting traffic and weather. Some other evenings I’ll be cooking up a storm for our voracious five-year-old at our downtown pied-à-terre before letting in the sitter and dashing off to Abravanel (hoping the scent of sautéing garlic blows away on the short walk).

It’s when I arrive at Abravanel Hall that the only reliably routine rituals begin. The viola case goes to its place on my locker. Phone placed next to it. Then to the dressing room. Clean shirt, check. Favorite cuff links (a wedding gift from my wife), check. Tailcoat (fretting over the shiny patch where my viola rests), check. Shiny shoes, check. Pants? Phew, check. Then back to the viola case for a quick swipe of rosin, and down to the stage to calmly go over the tricky bits in tonight’s program.

I wouldn’t trade this life for anything.

Want to know more about the viola’s role in the orchestra? Watch Brant explain it in this video:

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Pre-Concert Rituals: Rainer Eudeikis

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 asked two of our principal musicians who have prominent solo roles to share what pre-concert rituals help keep them grounded.

The majority of my performances are as a member of the Utah Symphony, and as a result preparation for those concerts is mixed in with other elements of my daily life. On an average performance day, I sleep in as late as possible (depending on whether or not I have a morning rehearsal, or how early the dogs wake us up…), and spend the remainder of the day practicing, teaching/coaching, walking the dogs, and maybe even allowing time for some video games before getting ready to leave for the concert. 

 

This weekend’s concerts, however, are something entirely different as I’ll be sitting in front of the orchestra as a soloist…On days when I have a solo performance, I try to thin out my schedule so I can really take my time to warm up slowly and find a good place mentally during my practice. It’s easy to over-play on the day of a concert, being convinced that just a few more attempts at a difficult passage will make all the difference in performance, but I try to take it easy and trust all the work and preparation that came in the months before. 

 

Thanks to pre-concert jitters, I typically lose my appetite and I’ll barely eat all day, but I’m usually ready to feast by the end of the concert! 

 

Want to know more about what a cello does in an orchestra? Listen to Rainer’s explanation in this video:

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2018-19 Films in Concert Series

What’s better than watching your favorite movie with your friends and family? Watching your favorite movie while its iconic soundtrack is played live by an orchestra! The 2018-19 Films in Concert series will take you on five musical adventures.

Who ya gonna call? The original Ghostbusters tells the story of a team of scientists who lose their cushy jobs at Columbia University and wage a high-tech battle against the supernatural. They stumble upon a gateway to another dimension—a doorway that releases evil upon the city. They’re New York City’s only hope against complete destruction!

From the moment Harry uses The Marauder’s Map to when the Patronus charm bursts from his wand, you’ll be transported back into the world you love.

Relive the magic of your favorite wizard in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban™ in Concert. Based on the third installment of J.K. Rowling’s classic saga, fans of all ages can now experience the thrilling tale accompanied by John Williams’ score performed live as Harry soars across the big screen.

Here’s looking at you, kid. Let Casablanca transport you to Morocco where Rick (Humphrey Bogart) struggles to do what is right for himself, and for his long-lost love, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman). Watch the drama unfold as we perform Max Steiner’s moving score live while the entire film plays on the big screen.

Luke Skywalker begins a journey that will change the galaxy as he joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a Wookie, and two droids to rescue Princess Leia from the evil Empire and learn the ways of the Force. Don’t miss Star Wars: A New Hope in concert, where we’ll be performing John Williams’s Oscar-winning score live while the full-length film plays on the big screen.

Get ready to fight a dragon, swim with merpeople, and find out just who put Harry’s name in the Goblet of Fire™! The Triwizard Tournament comes to Hogwarts™ in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire™ in Concert with the Utah Symphony. Relive the magic of Harry Potter™ soaring across the big screen in high-definition and experience the music as we perform Patrick Doyle’s unforgettable score live to the full-length film.

Don’t miss a single moment of these incredible films! Learn more and subscribe to our Films in Concert series here.

 

Ghostbusters©1984 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

HARRY POTTER characters, names and related indicia are © & ™ Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
J.K. ROWLING`S WIZARDING WORLD™ J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Publishing Rights © JKR. (s18)

Presentation licensed by Disney Concerts. In association with 20th Century Fox, LucasFilm and Warner/Chappell Music. © 2018 & TM LucasFilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved © Disney.

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Calling all students: Become a Utah Symphony Correspondent!

College is a busy time of life—with all of the homework, projects, and tests you have to prepare for, it’s hard to keep on top of everything AND take time out for yourself.

We want to change that for you—AND ramp up your social life.

Classical music can do a lot to heal the soul, and it can even help you with your grades. Researchers found that classical music often reduces stress and anxiety and makes you more receptive to learning.

The first thing you should know is any student can attend unlimited symphony and opera events for only $59 per person per season. Of course, going out on the town is more fun with friends, so you can also get a season pass for two people for only $99—hello, impressive date night anyone? If you think you can only get to one or two shows, select performances are just $15 per student.

Right now, we are looking for one college student “correspondent” to help us spread the word about the awesome experiences we offer at the symphony and opera. We would offer you a pair of tickets to a few select performances during the season, and you would get to take over the Utah Symphony or Utah Opera Instagram account for the night to tell everyone about your experience! (Not to mention the bragging rights of being a symphony and opera insider.)

The ideal candidate would be a college student currently studying music, journalism, or communications, who has a passion for classical music and opera, and a head full of ideas.

If you’re interested, email Kathleen at ksykes@usuo.org with your 1) full name, 2) phone number, 3) Instagram handle, and 4) a short paragraph about why you would be a great correspondent for Utah Symphony | Utah Opera.

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Staff Picks: Lance Jensen

I’m Lance Jensen and my official job title is a bit long: “Executive Assistant to the Music Director and Symphony Chorus Manager.” I work closely with Maestro Fischer in handling communications and many organizational and administrative tasks, assisting the Maestro in his efforts as our Music Director. I also manage the Symphony Chorus, organizing singers and providing the coordination necessary to have a chorus on the stage during performances when the musical works on the program require one.

Which performance are you most looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to the Utah Symphony Concerts on April 20 & 21—Grieg’s Piano Concerto.

This concert has a subtle theme—it features works by Nordic composers whose lifetimes spanned the 19th & 20th Centuries. I can claim Danish ancestry through both my mother and father, so maybe it’s this heritage that has me excited to attend! The works on the program are all among the gems of each composer’s compositions:

The Grieg Piano Concerto is one of those works of classical music that everyone has most likely heard (at least in part) whether you realize it or not. It’s an exciting concerto to the end, even if all you recognize are those first few opening bars from the piano.

Nielsen’s Helios Overture takes listeners on a voyage. Bookended by tranquility and peaceful musical passages, it builds to (and then descends from) exuberant and virtuosic playing.

Upon hearing the Sibelius Second Symphony for the first time, it was for me an instant favorite. Perhaps a bit lesser-known than the symphonies of Beethoven, Mahler or Tchaikovsky, Sibelius’ 2nd is no less musically satisfying. Sibelius creates a wide range of emotions and employs many different sound combinations and memorable melodies that keep me engaged throughout the symphony. It’s a great work that I am very much looking forward to hearing performed live by the fantastic musicians of the Utah Symphony.

What do you like to do before the show?

I like to find a good parking spot early with plenty of time to travel by foot to a nearby local restaurant for dinner before the concert begins. Attending the pre-concert lecture is always enjoyable and a great opportunity to hear from the evening’s performer (if present) and learn about his or her musical perspective and experience.

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Three debuts. Three incredible concerts.

April is a big month for grand entrances—this month we have three marvelous musicians from all over the globe who will make their debut with us. Each of these talented artists will make an unforgettable entrance you won’t want to miss!

First on the schedule, internationally-acclaimed conductor Karina Canellakis will conduct a remarkable performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Little Russian” Symphony as well as Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with soloist Conrad Tao and Franck’s Le Chasseur maudit.

Her resume is quite impressive. In addition to being a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music and Juilliard School—and the winner of the 2016 George Solti Conducting Award—she is an accomplished violinist. As if that didn’t already knock your socks off, she conducted at BBC Proms last year. Watch an excerpt of her brilliant performance here:

On April 20-21 we’ll perform the Grieg Piano Concerto with Alexandra Dariescu. This Romanian pianist was recently named as ‘one of 30 pianists under 30 destined for a spectacular career’ by International Piano Magazine. In fact, her career has already been spectacular—and no doubt will only get better!

Not only is she an accomplished pianist—as we can see in this clip of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1…

… she also knows how to bring music to life! Recently, she re-interpreted the music of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and set it to choreography and animation using projection technology. You can learn more about it in the clip below:

Finally, we’ll end April with an unforgettable performance of Shostakovich’s Piano Concertos No. 1 and No. 2 by Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg. He has been praised for his deep and insightful sensitivity as well as his compelling interpretations.

Don’t believe us? Watch for yourself here:

You won’t want to miss these incredible and historic debuts this month. Abravanel Hall awaits—find tickets here.

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Inside the Music: Franck’s “Le Chasseur maudit” (The Accursed Huntsman)

In any given symphony season, it’s important to balance the giants like Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Mahler with lesser-known composers who, despite their lack of widespread name recognition, have produced a great body of work in the symphonic medium. As for this weekend specifically, I don’t think I have to tell you why Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev are worth coming to Abravanel Hall to listen to, especially since we have one of our favorite pianists, Conrad Tao, back in Utah to perform Prokofiev’s famously bold and inventive Second Piano Concerto. To start off the program, though, the Utah Symphony will perform César Franck’s tone poem Le Chasseur maudit, or in English, The Accursed Huntsman. Franck’s name may be familiar to particularly avid classical music fans, but his name certainly doesn’t garner the same recognition as the other two composers that occupy this particular program. Despite Franck’s relative obscurity, The Accursed Huntsman is an incredibly thrilling, melodic, and listenable work, and should excite you just as much as the rest of the program this weekend.

First, a quick primer on Franck: born in December of 1822 at Liège, in what is now Belgium, César-Auguste-Jean-Guillaume-Hubert Franck (yes, that is his real name!) spent most of his adult life as an organist in Paris. During his lifetime, he was known as an avid improviser with massive hands that allowed him to perform harmonic feats many pianists couldn’t dream of accomplishing. Eventually, his fame as a performer led him to receive an appointment from the Paris Conservatoire. Though his appointment was to teach organ performance, he tended to give unsanctioned composition lessons as well and was maligned by some of his fellow faculty members for not adhering to the widely accepted theories and strict rules that often govern composition technique, at least in the teaching stages. Franck did not gain much recognition for his compositions during his lifetime—his Symphony in D, which is now arguably his most well-known work, was badly received by critics and disliked by the Conservatoire orchestra who premiered the piece. Most of his other works followed this trend, only a few receiving real praise from his contemporary critics. Franck passed away of a respiratory infection in 1890, still known above all for his virtuoso solo career but loved nonetheless by his contemporaries, including the subject of our season-long symphonic cycle, Camille Saint-Saëns.

The Accursed Huntsman was composed in 1882 and premiered in March of 1883 to a long ovation, an unusual response for Franck in his time. Franck was inspired by the German Romantic ballad Der wilde Jäger (or The Wild Hunter) written by Gottfried August Bürger in 1777, which describes a Count who defies the Sabbath to go hunting. Though the work is through-composed (meaning there are no breaks between sections), there are four distinct scenes: The Peaceful Sunday Morning, The Hunt, The Curse, and The Demons’ Chase.

The work begins, as one might expect, with the horns blasting a hunting call at full volume (a great way to kick off a concert!) The horns then fade out, and a pure, singing passage in the cellos illustrates the gently rolling hills and faithful worshippers heading to church on a peaceful Sunday—until the horns interject once again with their hunting call. This time, the peaceful cello theme returns with church bells and woodwinds gently chiming, calling all to worship. Defiantly, the horns continue to build in the background until we reach a climactic, sweeping full orchestral moment. If you didn’t know any better, you might think you’d stepped into the third act of a Wagner opera or perhaps a Rachmaninoff symphony on accident—Franck uses the full power of the orchestra to create this glorious moment.

And then, we’re off! The second part of the work, “The Hunt,” begins suddenly with an abbreviated version of the horn call we’ve already heard a few a times before. This time though, the woodwinds respond as the collective voice of the faithful, repurposing the melody of the horn call as a desperate, and at times admonishing, plea to the Count to call off the hunt and find his rightful place in the pews of the church instead. The strings begin to build ominously with interjections from the winds and brass, ramping up the intensity of the hunt. Now the full orchestra is behind the Count, urging him on as he speeds through the forest at an electrifying pace. The woodwinds provide fleeting virtuosic passages and trills, while the brass act as the driving force behind this forbidden hunt. Soon though, the cello theme from the first section returns in variation, following the Count even as he leaves the church far behind. God is following him on his unholy hunt, just waiting for his chance to punish the foolish Count. Soon, the orchestra reaches a grinding halt, just a tremolo in the low strings remaining.

Now we begin the third section of the work, “The Curse.” In a cruel twist of fate, the horns who once championed the Count’s hunt are now the start to his downfall, their sound transformed by being played “stopped” (the horn players achieve this metallic sound by placing their hand in the bell). String tremolos fade in and out as a new “Curse” theme is intoned by the clarinets and trumpets, followed by the trombones. The Count cannot move and his horn will not sound—suddenly, a voice comes down from the heavens to curse him to be chased by demons for all eternity. The orchestra builds to a crashing triple-forte as the curse is complete, and suddenly the Count is off again! But this time, he is the one being hunted. Thus begins the final section of the tone poem, “The Demon’s Chase.” Here we hear echoes of Berlioz’ famous final movement of Symphonie fantastique depicting the witches’ Sabbath. The music once again dramatically builds in pace and volume as the Count furiously tries to escape the demons—fleeting downward scales and trills from the high woodwinds abound, as well as rapid interjections from the brass. The strings join in with their frantic ostinatos, and before we know it the orchestra fades to a whisper before providing a final, staccato G-minor chord, God’s final word to the doomed Count.

All this action takes place in 15 short minutes and will certainly kick off this weekend’s concerts with a bang! We hope to see you this weekend at Abravanel Hall to enjoy Franck’s The Accursed Huntsman alongside Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 “Little Russian.”

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