Masterclass notes with Jeffrey Kahane

On Thursday December 1, pianist Jeffrey Kahane taught a masterclass during his visit to Salt Lake.  Four members of the Utah Symphony Youth Guild participated: Derek Banks, Alex Cheng, Sarah Shipp, and John Zhao.  Mr. Kahane made many points that can help all students of music, not just pianists, with their playing.  Youth Guild member Suzannah Rose listened carefully and took very good notes that she shares with us 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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TRIO series: the Timpanist

It was during a dress rehearsal of Brahms Violin Concerto—something came over me in the middle of the third movement that consumed my entire being. It said yes, this is exactly what I want to do. —George Brown

Utah Symphony timpanist George Brown grew up experimenting with different instruments. The son of a professional woodwind player, George knew as a little boy that he wanted to play the drums, but it was not until ninth grade—after taking a break from music to practice his jump shot—that he began playing them. Once he started, he never looked back.

George Brown

It was while pursuing an education at University of Louisville that George decided to audition for the United States Armed Forces Bi-Centennial Band.

“The story of the Bicentennial Band was a story of a particular celebration that ended up having an impact on my life then and afterwards,” says George, who swore into the United States Coast Guard upon landing a spot in the band.

He recalls a time in US history where the nation was not celebrating much of anything. Tremendous political upheaval, riots, high gas prices, the Watergate scandal, and the beginning of terrorism between the 1960s and 1970s consumed the country. From 1975–1976, the Bicentennial Band provided a way for people to come together and celebrate the historical events that led to the creation of the United States. George’s participation in the band meant twenty months of constant touring—and self-exploration.

“I saw the beginning of a healing process in which Americans finally had something to feel good about ourselves as Americans. The entire country participated in this. That provided an opportunity for me to participate in a celebration that was some of the best memories of my early career,” George says.

The tour also gave George the chance to travel—and ultimately come to Utah for the first time. He immediately fell in love with the mountainous landscape, and vowed to return. A series of remarkable musical experiences have given George many reasons to bask in life’s moments. From the East to the West to Mexico City and around the world, George carries with him beautiful memories of celebrating life through music.

By Autumn Thatcher


Stay tuned for our last TRIO series’ article on the well-known composer, Nico Muhly.

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Community Collaboration Spotlight: The Madeleine Choir School

MCS-Choir-Photo-2015

Q: Over the history of the school, how has The Madeleine Choir School used music to celebrate?

The Choir School was established in 1996 very much in the tradition of the European Cathedral Choir Schools, and so a very strong relationship exists between the Choir School and the Cathedral of the Madeleine. The choristers sing daily and Sunday services in the Cathedral during which their music heightens the joy of festivals and happy occasions, laments and expresses grief at personal and community loss and tragedy, and through its beauty seeks to inspire all people to more noble lives. We perform and celebrate with the great treasury of sacred music, including musical settings for the Mass of G. P. da Palestrina, W. A. Mozart, Anton Bruckner, Johannes Brahms, Francis Poulenc, Benjamin Britten and many more.

Q: Can you explain how the curriculum or day to day function of the school brings music into the students’ everyday lives and what your goals are in shaping the way the choristers relate to music?

Madeleine Choir School

Music permeates the day at the Choir School, from the very active early music education opportunities in the lower school, the beginning violin instruction in second and third grades, the initial chorister formation in fourth grade, the work of the various choirs in grades five through eight, music theory and music history coursework through to singing for Cathedral services and community events. By discipline, practice and study, we hope to empower students to make musical expression a natural part of their lives as future composers, performers, audience members and advocates for the arts.

Q:  From a young age, the Madeleine Choir School students are exposed to a lot of monumental works and performance opportunities filled with pomp and circumstance. How does one go about imparting the historical, cultural and overall significance to the students? Discuss if music provides the context by which they can understand, relate to and appreciate the situations they are afforded (ie. Performing with Utah Symphony, Utah Opera, Mormon Tabernacle Choir)

The Annual Cathedral Concert Series and the collaboration with local musical institutions such as the Utah Symphony, Utah Opera and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir are clear highlights in the musical experience of our young people. The thrill and excitement of participation in these professional productions is highly valued by the children as they look back on their work at the Choir School. We work to be sure they understand the significance of the musical works they participate in, connecting studies in history, philosophy, literature and more with the cultural milieu from which the musical work emerged and to which it was addressed. The Symphony’s Mahler Cycle has been a great source of study and inspiration at the school.

Q:  Describe the personality type of a student that is drawn to attend the Madeleine Choir School, and how music generally figures in their life.

Bright, engaged young people with a variety of interests who are open to commitment and hard work thrive in the fast-paced environment of the Choir School. Parents often report with amusement that the students are often caught singing while at play with their classmates…in Latin! Our graduates regularly applaud the discipline and work-habits they acquired during their years at the Choir School. Daily instruction, rehearsals and regular performances are a part of the experience of a student. These experiences lay the foundation for future musical and artistic engagement throughout their lives.

By Gregory A. Glenn, Pastoral Administrator, The Madeleine Choir School.


To see the Madeleine Choir School in action, check out their upcoming performances with the Utah Symphony: The Child and the Enchantments. Friday November 13, and Saturday 14 at 7:30pm, at Abravanel Hall. For more information and tickets, visit the Utah Symphony website.

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TRIO series: the Percussionist

Music describes perfectly the indescribable. All those emotions and feelings, the magical and extremely personal relationship we all have with the music of our choice and tastes, these are things of defining beauty and wonder for the human race, and are without penalty nor discrimination. —Colin Currie

Colin Currie

Visiting percussionist Colin Currie grew up in Edinburgh and continued studies in London, where he currently lives. The internationally renowned percussionist says that he has always loved the drums, but it was around the age of 13—upon first encountering the symphony orchestra—that he decided to devote his life to classical music, percussion, and contemporary composers.

“It was my goal from that time to contribute to the solo repertoire for my instruments, especially in the area of significant works of adventure, dignity, and longevity,” says Colin.

Colin admits to recognizing that a life of music might entail sacrifices to achieve the things he believed in, but the experience has been an enriching one that has allowed his musical life to be sustained by his career, and vice versa. He sees every premier he gives as potentially a cause to celebrate the wealth of percussion music.

“I have been very lucky to meet and work with the truly outstanding writers of our time, and I delight in introducing the thoughts and insight these composers bring to percussion. There have been too many highlights to pick and choose names, but this latest addition by Andrew Norman will be no exception. We will certainly be in a celebratory place on the occasion of this premiere!” Colin says.

Colin Currie

A life devoted to music is certain to have many memories of moments influenced by it. For Colin, he recalls hearing Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” for the first time, as well as string quartets by Bela Bartok and Benjamin Britten. Another moment that stands out to him happened when he was 15.

“The first time I ever performed a concerto was a very affecting experience. I performed the Panufnik “Concertino” with the London Symphony Orchestra. It was early days for both me and the repertoire but I caught ‘the bug’ immediately,” says Colin.

Since those early days, Colin has appreciated the way in which life can be celebrated and enriched through music.

“Existing in real time, music also traces one of the greatest mystery of existence: the transition from one moment to the next. The closer we get to music, the more beautiful and magical it becomes.”

By Autumn Thatcher


Stay tuned for our next TRIO series’ article on the Utah Symphony timpanist, George Brown.

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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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Utah Symphony Gear Review

Panormo

Meet Vincenzo Panormo, the 225 year old bass and his proud owner, Jamie Allyn. Often referred to as the “Stradivarius of the bass”, Panormo is considered to be the best of the best when it comes to bass making. Born in in Italy, Panormo spent most of his career in London during the turn of the 18th century and is classified as an English maker. Panormo only made about twenty basses and when a dealer brought one back from London Jamie caught a flight to Montreal to purchase the instrument in 1983.  At that point the bass was in dire condition and still had gut strings on it (used by musicians before the invention of steel strings). Jamie then took the bass down Robertson and Sons Violin Shop in Albuquerque for restoration.

Panormo

Why go to so much trouble for a bass? This instrument truly is a work of art. The sound is what Panormos are famous for. Other musicians in the Utah Symphony have described the tone as “dark, enveloping and chocolaty”. Jamie was seduced by the composition of the sound. The bass has a pure fundamental tone (imagine tuning all the static out of a radio frequency).  Jamie knew from the moment he played it that it was the one for him.

Panormo lived in several European countries before settling in London. Some of his best violins are made from the wood of a billiards table he purchased in Dublin. Most of his basses were commissioned by Domenico Dragonnetti, a famous virtuoso also living in London at the time. If you peak into the f-holes on the front of the bass you can spy the maker’s label with an address: Portland Street, Soho, London.

Originally from Los Angeles, Jamie Allyn has been in the orchestra since 1978.  The Utah Symphony is proud to have such a fine player with exquisite taste in instruments among its ranks.  You can hear Jamie and his Panormo most weekends at Abravanel Hall.

By Nathan Lutz

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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

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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

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