Bernstein at 100: Celebrating the legacy of an American icon

In the year 1918, American composer, conductor, pianist, and music educator Leonard Bernstein was born. Over the course of a storied career that spanned the globe (he was one of the first musicians born and educated in the United States to receive worldwide acclaim), he became nothing short of a legend. In the year of his 100th birthday, many orchestras are looking back at Bernstein’s legacy and how it has shaped the American musical landscape.

When one considers what Bernstein gave to classical music, the scope and depth of his work are astounding. He was highly sought-after as a conductor, holding a long tenure as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic and guest conducting with some of the best orchestras in the world, most notably with the Vienna Philharmonic. Bernstein didn’t just conduct, though─also a highly skilled pianist, Bernstein often “play-conducted” the piano concertos of Ravel, Mozart, and others, always an impressive feat. Furthermore, Bernstein produced a staggering number of recordings with the New York Philharmonic and numerous other orchestras, many of which still stand as pillars in the recorded catalogue today. In fact, Bernstein was instrumental in the first complete recorded cycle of Mahler’s nine symphonies, from which Maurice Abravanel surely took inspiration when he recorded the same cycle with the Utah Symphony in the 1960s and 1970s.

Conducting was just one small piece of Bernstein’s legacy, however. Many of us also know and love him as a composer─his musical West Side Story was an immediate hit when it was released in 1957, and music from this groundbreaking work is still played by orchestras worldwide. He was able to capture the sound and mood of late 1950s New York City in this musical, and that’s a substantial part of what makes all of Bernstein’s music so captivating. He drew inspiration from styles that many may have considered to be at odds with each other─Austro-German classical music, jazz, Jewish music, and the idioms of Broadway musicals all found their way into his compositions to create a tapestry that is distinctively and uniquely American. And yet, the themes Bernstein conveyed in his music were themes of global importance. His favorite idea to come back to was the individual’s search for faith, an idea that remains especially relevant today─he explored this theme in his Symphony No. 2 “Age of Anxiety” as well as in Chichester Psalms, both of which will be performed during Utah Symphony’s “Bernstein at 100” festival.

Beyond these incredible accomplishments, each enough for one lifetime on their own, Bernstein also catapulted classical music into the public psyche by televising the New York Philharmonic’s young people’s concerts on primetime television, starting in 1954 and continuing for almost two decades. He taught millions of Americans how to appreciate classical music through a new and exciting entertainment medium, furthering the reach of the American orchestra and guaranteeing new audiences for the future. So in the year of Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday, the Utah Symphony pays homage to the man that transformed the American classical music scene, propelled it into the 20th century, and fostered generations of musicians and music-lovers alike.

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. You can take a look at some of her other in-depth articles here and here

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TRIO series: the Composer

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

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

Nico Muhler

Photo credit: Steven Psano

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

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

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

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

By Autumn Thatcher

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

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Handel’s Messiah Factoids

George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner

George Frideric Handel

  1. George Frideric Handel was a superstar among composers of his time and composers of the future. Bach unsuccessfully tried to meet with Handel, but as fate would have it the two never met. What could have come from their meeting leads to speculation and desire to see two greats work together.
  2. The women attending the first production of Handel’s Messiah on April 13, 1742 pleaded to wear dresses with no hoops in order to accommodate more patrons.
  3. The first performance of Handel’s Messiah on April 13, 1742, brought with it an attraction other than Handel’s esteemed name and familiar importance. It also premiered Susannah Cibber, a contralto who was involved with a scandalous divorce.
  4. Mozart would be quoted as saying the following about Handel: “Handel understands effect better than any of us…when he chooses, he strikes like a thunderbolt.”  – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  5. In popular culture Handel’s Messiah is unmatched in its use. Nickelodeon’s popular satirical cartoon Ren & Stimpy heavily used Handel’s Messiah. The use of Handel’s Messiah is typically seen during a euphoric moment right before a devastating and unsettling moment of destruction.
  6. Genius is often closely associated with absolutely uncontrollable emotional tirades.  Colleagues and close friends all described his anger and insane outbursts, often assumed to be associated with his obsession with perfection and form.
  7. Handel once had a duel over seating. A rather simple argument over a seating arrangement in the orchestra pit led to a near fatal duel with fellow composer Johann Mattheson. Mattheson’s sword was thwarted by a metal button on Handel’s coat. Afterwards the two settled their differences and remained friends for years.

By Seeth McGavien

It’s time to kick off your holiday season with the Messiah Sing-In! The Utah Symphony Orchestra will be performing at Abravanel Hall on November 28. For more information and tickets, visit this page.

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Mahler Factoids

Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler

  1. Great minds often meet throughout history; that was the case in 1910 when Mahler’s marriage was in a crisis and he had a session with the great Sigmund Freud.
  2. Great artists are never satisfied, and the same can be said for their audiences. The original version of “Titan” titled “A Symphonic Poem in Two Sections” was poorly received at first. It took 3 years for it to be performed again and numerous revisions until audiences appreciated it.
  3. Perfection is often the key to destruction, and Mahler was no exception. Known for being such a perfectionist even to the most microscopic detail, he achieved amazing professional results, but also made numerous enemies because of this trait.
  4. During the happiest time of Mahler’s life he composed Symphony No. 6, referred to as Tragische (Tragic) whose nihilistic, abrupt, ending was a shock to audiences.
  5. There is this great fascination with working with some of the greats throughout history. However, working with Mahler is better left to the imagination; his bursts of anger and authoritarian attitude made him unbelievably difficult to work with.
  6. Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 has been described as a hero’s epic journey; its unhinged, almost overwhelming orchestra on the piece holds all the key elements to a classical hero’s journey. Picture Odysseus: his beginning, his journey, and his destination. Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 would be the soundtrack to such a journey.

By Seeth McGavien

In November, the Utah Symphony will be performing Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and his “Tragic” Symphony. For more information and tickets, please go here and here.
And did you know that the solo percussionist, Colin Currie, will be joining the Utah Symphony for Mahler’s Symphony No. 5? Check out our TRIO series to learn more about him!

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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!

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Ode To Joy: Part 4 of the Online Learning Guide to Beethoven

Beethoven’s last creative period, often referred to as the mature period, commenced in 1815 and lasted until his death in 1827.  Beethoven’s previous “heroic” period, which roughly coincided with the rise and fall of Napolean, was an extremely productive period in his life.  The majority of his larger works, particularly his symphonies, were composed during the heroic period.  Although Beethoven’s compositional output during this final phase dropped considerably, the compositions during this period are generally larger in scale, deeper in emotional content, and more harmonically adventurous and avant-garde than compositions produced during earlier periods.  These final phase compositions more strongly foreshadowed the Romantic Era than those of earlier years.

Beethoven’s final years were difficult for a variety of reasons.  Although he began to experience hearing loss as early as the late 1790’s, he was profoundly deaf by 1815.  His ability to publicly perform greatly diminished over the years as a result of this hearing loss.  Beethoven began relying on ear trumpets designed by his friend, the Viennese inventor Johann Maelzel, in order to maintain some degree of speech recognition.

Beethoven’s ear trumpets

Beethoven’s ear trumpets

Contine reading

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The Immortal Beloved: Part 3 of the Online Learning Guide to Beethoven

Beethoven, after coming to terms with his failing hearing, entered an extremely fruitful and productive phase in his career, otherwise known as the “Heroic” period.  After his return from Heiligenstadt, a notable pupil, Carl Czerny, recalls Beethoven exclaiming:

I am not satisfied with the work I have done so far.  From now on I intend to take a new way.”

This middle period, spanning 1803-1815, is characterized by a high level of musical maturity.  Works from this period are generally larger in scale, longer in duration, and overall more complex when compared to prior works.  Notable works from this period include his only opera, an oratorio, a mass, six symphonies (Symphonies 3-8), four concertos, five string quartets, three trios, three string sonatas, six piano sonatas and numerous other miscellaneous works. This middle “Heroic” phase roughly coincides with the rise and fall of Napoleon.

Ludwig van Beethoven, 1804

Ludwig van Beethoven, 1804

Contine reading

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Heiligenstadt: Part 2 of the Online Learning Guide to Beethoven

Beethoven permanently established himself in Vienna in late 1792, at the age of 22.  Shortly after his arrival, Beethoven learned his father had died in Bonn. Undoubtedly, this news generated mixed emotions.  Although Johann van Beethoven had been relatively forgotten in Bonn at the time of his death, Beethoven’s Bonn patron, Archduke Maximilian Franz marked the occasion by noting that “the revenues of the liquor excise have suffered a loss.”   Beethoven opted to not return for his father’s funeral.

Beethoven spent a great deal of time during his early years in Vienna focusing on his compositional studies.  Vienna was the center of the musical world at that time, which may have been partly due to its relatively central geography. Vienna is physically located between Italy and Germany, which made it an ideal crossroad for a blending of Italian lyricism and German counterpoint.  Vienna in the late 18th and early 19th century was an incredibly fertile environment, full of rich opportunities for musicians and composers.   Members of the ruling Hapsburg monarchy were ardent patrons of the arts.  Vienna contained a multitude of wealthy aristocrats that were willing and able to lend assistance to promising new talent such as Beethoven.  Unquestionably, he was delighted to encounter such a large number of professional, semi-professional, and amateur musicians at his disposal.

Schönbrunn palace in Vienna, summer residence of the Hapsburg monarchy

Schönbrunn palace in Vienna, summer residence of the Hapsburg monarchy

Contine reading

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From Bonn to Vienna: Part 1 of the Online Learning Guide to Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven is undoubtedly one of the most well-known and influential composers of all time.  Historians generally regard him as the culmination of the Classical Era (1750-1830).   In fact, scholars frequently delineate the end of the Classical Era and the beginning of the Romantic Era with Beethoven’s death in 1827.  His works are considered among the finest of the classical repertoire.

Perhaps his best-known works are his nine monumental symphonies, which set a new standard for symphonic composition and are widely regarded as the cornerstone of orchestral literature.  Indeed, numerous composers throughout the 19th century were too intimidated to compose a symphony because of Beethoven’s supreme legacy.  For example, Johannes Brahms, born five years after Beethoven’s death, was widely regarded as the embodiment of German Romanticism.  He would spend his life in Beethoven’s shadow, and would not publish a symphony until well into his forties for fear of being perceived as woefully inferior to Beethoven.

Contine reading

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Emerging Quartets and Composers

“I have always been attracted to the raw power and visceral energy of a string quartet,” Anthony Suter, an American composer, currently on the faculty at Redlands University, says. “While often very beautiful and delicate, works for quartet can also be incredibly savage, even primitive.”

Suter and Nicolas Chuaqui of Salt Lake City, UT are the two composers that will be showcased during the Emerging Quartets and Composers Program, an annual program in the Deer Valley Music Festival where two composers and two string quartets are given the opportunity of studying and performing with American composer Joan Tower and the Muir String Quartet.

This three-week seminar allows the performers the chance to rehearse with the Muir String Quartet members on a daily basis, coach Utah students attending summer music camps, and participate in discussions about the string quartet business, including the commissioning of new works. All this culminates in a final performance on Thursday, July 31 at 8 PM during the Deer Valley® Music Festival Chamber Ensemble Series at St. Mary’s Church in Park City.

This performance will showcase the talents of San Francisco’s Friction Quartet and Salt Lake City’s Rosco String Quartet playing the world-premieres of “Common Ground” by Chuaqui and “Frictive Grit” by Suter. Chuaqui’s piece will be performed by the Rosco Quartet, and Suter’s piece will be performed by the Friction Quartet.

The string quartet is a genre of musical composition with four movements and four players: 2 violinists, a violist, and a cellist. Its roots can be traced to the 1600s, though popular belief says that Joseph Haydn brought the genre to popularity in the 1750s when he composed music for the only four players available.

Chuaqui and Suter have taken a different routes in terms of string quartet music. While Suter calls his piece savage, Nic says his piece “sets up a logical background, but very soon contradictory and clashing elements begin to emerge. The instruments struggle with one another, sometimes playing completely separately, and sometimes completely together.”

There is a EQ&C masterclass on Monday, July 28, 2014 from 3:30 – 5:30 PM at the Utah Conservatory (4593 Silver Springs Drive in Park City, behind the blue-roofed 7-11) The masterclass is free and open to the public. No tickets required!

For more information, go here

Friction Quartet

Friction Quartet

Rosco Quartet

Rosco Quartet

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