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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Music Lovers and Fashionistas!

So, I’m pretty sure you know about the new Nordstrom that is opening downtown this month. Who doesn’t? The opening of City Creek is quite a big adventure for downtown, and there are some great events happening. One of them is the Nordstrom Grand Opening Gala that will benefit Utah Symphony | Utah Opera and the Utah Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. At the event you’ll be one of the first to step through the doors of the new Nordstrom. Dinner, desserts, incredible shopping – what’s not to love?

Tickets for the event are available here.

To get ready for the Gala, we were invited along on a sneak-peek tour of the Nordstrom before it’s open. Here’s some pictures from the day:

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Right now they are still unpacking racks and merchandise and setting up.

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But soon it will look like this.

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Nordstrom’s origins are as a shoe store, which is why shoes play such a prominent role in their store layouts.

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The City Creek Nordstrom has two (!!) Gucci boutiques. One for accessories, and one for women’s clothing. It’s one of only 8 Nordstrom that have these little boutiques!

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This is super cute – the kids’ section is decorate with all these colorful fish tiles. They were made by kids as a fundraiser for local schools. Each kid made two tiles so that if one of these ever breaks, there will be a replacement!

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This is the dressing room in the Junior’s section. So fun!

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USUO Day on Capitol Hill

Friday, February 17 was a great day at USUO! We were extremely honored to go up to the state capitol building and receive recognition from the Utah Senate and House of Representatives in honor of “contributions and service to the people of the state of Utah.” This was also our chance to stand up and publicly thank the Legislature for their continued support.

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We are so proud of our tradition of visiting all the communities in Utah, and it is through state POPS funding that this is possible.

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After the resolution was presented, Utah Symphony Music Director Thierry Fischer and Utah Opera Artistic Director Christopher McBeth spoke with members of the Utah Legislature and the press about the different education programs that tour to Utah schools. They even ran into Governor Herbert!

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Utah Symphony musicians were also on hand throughout the afternoon performing solos and chamber music in the Capitol Rotunda.

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We just want to take another opportunity to thank the communities and officials of Utah for your continued support and well-wishes – we can’t do what we do without you!

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A video of the Legislative session can be viewed here.

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Summer Opera Travels part 1

It has been a moderately busy travel season to see opera.   On the list this summer was: Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (mid/late June); a quick audition trip to Central City Opera (last day of June); Santa Fe Opera (late July/early August); and, now, Seattle Opera for their production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle which the company presents every fourth season.

 

In some ways, a summer opera festival in Saint Louis seems incongruous…it is, after all, the home of Anheuser Busch, producer of Budweiser beer, the Cardinals baseball team, the launching point for history buffs interested in following the Lewis and Clark trail, and notorious for its heat and humidity in the summer months.  You wouldn’t – at first blush – think that it could also be home to a long-standing, successful opera company through which several of this country’s well-known opera artists have come.  However, this is exactly the case and remains a stopping point for most in the industry as they “Festival-hop” throughout the summer.  More importantly, there is a fiercely loyal following in the community which attend every production regardless of familiarity.

 

First opera I saw of the four I would attend over a period of three days was a rarely performed one by Mozart written when he was 19 entitled, Il Re Pastore.  The cast was wonderful – including Heidi Stober and Maureen McKay – the concept of the production didn’t work for me.  The idea was to update the setting (the story comes from Roman antiquity) to a 19th C. English country manor with the inhabitants choosing to re-enact the fable.  Unfortunately, nothing in the score supports this idea making it a difficult argument.  Still the cast fearlessly committed themselves to the challenge and I applauded their efforts.  The singing was very good and the orchestra played this rare piece very well making an enjoyable evening.  I will confess, there is a reason that this opera is rarely produced and it pales in comparison to the better known masterpieces of Mozart’s.

 

The next opera attended was another rarely produced one, Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles.  This one is another light-hearted story where Mozart’s characters come back to life and interact with the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  It’s mostly a comic romp, and the music sometimes imitates Mozart and other composers.  John’s music is always colorful as was this.  He’s re-worked the orchestration and some of the vocal writing from its debut at the Met and it will be interesting to see if his efforts give the piece more life.  The production was wonderful with lots of levels, action and dramatic lighting…James Robinson, the company’s artistic director, was the stage director and did his usual interesting work.

 

Next up was a wonderful new production of Salome starring a regional opera favorite, Kelly Kaduce.  Kelly has made a wonderful career of portraying roles one wouldn’t necessarily think she was suited for but succeeding with her musicality and dramatic abilities.  She brought the femme fatal to life with her acting and excellent delivery of the text (OTSL performs everything in English, by the way).  The Jochanaan was good but the other standouts for me were the Herod and Herodias; usually these roles are about 60 per cent sung with the balance being a form of declamatory/approximated pitch speaking.  In this case, I believe I heard all the notes and rhythms for the first time.  Kudos to Myers and Zifchak in doing this.

 

That same day, I attended the perennial favorite, La Boheme.  The audience loved it, of course.  The production was straight on traditional and the cast was appropriately youthful to make a wonderful stage picture.  Puccini’s music was well-served by Ari Pelto who is to conduct our Carmen in January.

 

So there it was…four operas in three days.  The next morning was another three hours of auditions (OTSL also operates a fine young artist training program, the participants making up chorus and several of the smaller roles) with colleagues from other opera companies from around the country (this is one of what I call the “unofficial conferences” of the summer where we convene at the same time to see shows and connect with each other) and then off to the airport to head home.  Definitely a full weekend of opera.

 

Christopher

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Skiing with Keith Lockhart

Ski with Keith Lockhart

On Saturday, February 28, Maestro Keith Lockhart, CEO & President Melia Tourangeau, VP of Marketing & Development Deer Valley® Music Festival Carey Cusimano, Director of Special Events Amanda Deuel, VP of Marketing & Public Relations Kevin Bentz, and Deer Valley Resort President and General Manager Bob Wheaton hosted Deer Valley® Music Festival donors and VIPs for a Ski with Keith day.

Bob was a great host and took us up Bald Mountain for a few great turns and views of the Jordanelle Valley early in the morning while lunch was hosted by Mr. & Mrs. Gordon at the Mariposa. We all had a great time and USUO wishes to thank Bob and the Gordon’s for helping to make this such a wonderful day on the slopes. If you are interested in receiving information on our Deer Valley® Music Festival donor events, please contact Amada Deuel at adeuel@usuo.org for details. Until next time…

More photos are available on our Facebook fan page.

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Orchestras Feeding America Food Drive

Utah Symphony | Utah Opera (USUO) is excited to participate in Orchestras Feeding America, the first national food drive by America’s symphony orchestras. Our musicians, staff members and volunteers will collect non-perishable food at the concerts on Friday, March 27 and Saturday, March 28 from 4:00 – 8:00 pm on the plaza of Abravanel Hall. The food will be donated to the Utah Food Bank. As a thank you, USUO will be offering 10% discount coupons to selected future concerts for those who donate on March 27 and 28.

To date, more than 160 orchestras have come together to combat hunger in their communities through Orchestras Feeding America, and the number of participants is growing daily. The project is organized by the League of American Orchestras, which represents the nation’s professional, volunteer, and youth orchestras, and Feeding America’s network of over 200 food banks and 63,000 agencies. The drive was inspired by the true story of the upcoming film The Soloist.

“We are honored to participate in Orchestras Feeding America. We are all feeling the effects of the current economic crisis and we have neighbors in greater need than ever. We are looking forward to lending a helping hand and supporting a community that has always supported us,” said Melia Tourangeau, President & CEO.

One in eight Americans is at risk of hunger. According to the USDA, there are 36 million people at risk of hunger in the U.S.; 12 million of them are children.  In December 2008, Feeding America conducted a survey of 160 food banks nationwide – the results were troubling, with food banks reporting a 30 percent increase in demand for emergency food assistance, compared to one year ago.

About Utah Food Bank Services
Utah Food Bank Services is the state’s emergency food collection and distribution hub, providing food to a statewide network of over 230 emergency food pantries, agencies, regional food banks and direct service programs. Last fiscal year, Utah Food Bank Services distributed 19.2 million pounds of food, the equivalent of over 9.6 million for families and individuals in need. Utah Food Bank Services also operates 18 Kids Cafe sites, 2-1-1 Information & Referral and Services for Seniors. For more information about Utah Food Bank Services visit www.utahfoodbank.org.

About The Soloist
The Soloist, starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr., directed by Joe Wright, will be released by Paramount Pictures to theaters nationwide on April 24th.  A Dreamworks Pictures/Universal Pictures presentation in association with Studio Canal and Participant Media, the film is based on the true story of the relationship between Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez and Nathaniel Ayers, a gifted Juilliard-trained string player whose mental illness landed him among the homeless on the streets of Los Angeles.  The relationship has expanded to include staff and musicians of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  The Soloist, which also features the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is a testament to the redemptive power of music and a reminder of our connections to the most vulnerable among us.

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Wagner Singers Competition

Well…back from a lovely evening. This…on the heels…of one of the hottest days in Seattle. Much hotter than it was in SLC today. Go figure. I managed to spend the day walking miles over the city including up and down Nob Hill, Queen Anne and into Pike Place Market. A good day.

I had dinner tonight tonight with and agent and a critic. You would think this was like swimming in shark infested waters. However, the agent I have known for nearly fifteen years (is this possible?) and the critic was new to me but we had a lovely meal, nonetheless. The lovely thing…and somehow we landed on this topic…we all basically said that we were working towards the same end: forwarding an art form. What a great base from which to begin a friendship!

I forgot to mention that I had the great privilege to be introduced to Ben Heppner. He is not only the reigning Wagner heroic tenor of our generation, he’s one heck of a nice guy! I had a lovely conversation with him during the intermission and…guess what? His daughter has just settled in none other than Salt Lake City. There may be something with which to work there!

Tonight was really fun. I’ve long believed that all opera lovers enjoy a good young artist competition. What’s not too love? You start with great operatic music and then add young singers who are passionate about the art form and are giving it their all to break into the business and become a star. What better recipe could one ask for? What makes this particular competition special is the fact that it combines these factors with the magnificence of the music of Richard Wagner. (Note: I think I’ve shared this but I am a devotee of the music of Wagner.)

It’s worth sharing that Seattle Opera has a penchant for Wagner operas. The former general director began a tradition that the current one has transformed into something quite special. Seattle Opera presents the Ring Cycle every four years and other Wagner works in between and has established a world wide reputation for the quality of these presentations.   Their current General Director is also recognized as one of the leading figures in Wagnerian opera.  Basically, next to Bayreuth and the Met you might as well go to Seattle to see Wagner done well.  So…that’s why coming here for a Wagner singers competition is a worthwhile thing.

Here’s the other reason: the purpose of this competition is not to decide who is the best current singer of this particularly demanding repertoire.  What this competition is about is finding the next generation of Wagner artists.  Fun, yes?  In fact, by rules of the competition, no applicant may have sung a significant major role in a Wagner opera.  So what we heard tonight were young-ish artist who may have a significant career in this repertoire but quite honestly aren’t ready to take on such demands immediately.  Trust me, singing an aria and singing a role are two entirely different things.

 So we heard arias from Parsifal, Meistersinger, Tannhaüser and most of The Ring; all with orchestra and on the stage of the McCaw Opera House.  What a wonderful night.

 Tonights competitors were again an international lot representing Australia, Great Britain, Germany, South Africa, Sweden, Canada and the United States.  As mentioned before, Speight and Maestro Asher Fisch heard semi finalists in Munich, London and New York before choosing eight finalists to come to Seattle.

 I’m going to begin offering the opportunity to join me on such trips and I couldn’t think of a better one than this competition which should happen again in two years.  I think you might really enjoy it.

 When I hear who the winners were, I’ll be sure to post again…

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All Done For Vivace!

Well it’s been a hectic few days but I just put the final touches on the Vivace primer, printed and designed what felt like 5 gazillion posters and primers, got blankets, ordered balloons, organized the Vivace name badges for the Advisory Council, and printed out sign up sheets and Classical V Series order forms. Whew! I’m really getting excited for tonight’s event. Vivace partied at Time for Three’s (Tf3) performance last year at the 2007 Deer Valley® Music Festival. You can view the pics here. As you can see, the party was a lot of fun and may have gotten a little carried away with photos surrounding the cello car! Tf3 was a blast and I can’t wait for another fun night of hearing their music and then hanging out at Red Rock, Park City. Red Rock is providing free appetizers – yum!

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Santa Fe 2

Hey all,

Saw Verdi’s FALSTAFF the other night.   I must admit, I think it is — musically — one of the most clever pieces of music ever written.  The story of the opera combines parts of both THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR and HENRY IV and is basically Verdi’s only pure comedy.  While it was a fun evening, perhaps not the best of Santa Fe Opera’s offerings.  To the company’s credit, they had to replace the title role (It’s not uncommon in large companies to change lead roles at some point in the run of performances.  The reason being that the world’s finest performers are quite busy and often can’t hang about for two or more months.)  It clearly changed the energy for the entire cast.  My inside sources tell me the conductor was also incorporating some faster than normal tempos that night which would have put the entire cast on edge.

The title role was performed by Anthony Michaels-Moore.  He’s a Brit and this is one of his signature roles.  Falstaff is a huge and difficult role.  It requires amazing acting skills and the ability to sing at all extremes of the voice as well as to make some unusual sounds.  He did all very well.  Again, while my inside sources tell me that the artist who performed the first part of the performance run was better, Mr. Michaels-Moore did an wonderful job.

Standouts of the evening were probably the Dame Quickly played by Nancy Maultsby and Fenton played by Norman Reinhardt.   The former is a vocally thankless role that requires the performer to run around the stage more than the rest of the cast put together and the latter requires a lighter but still romantic vocal quality.  Mr. Reinhardt played the role as virile as I have ever seen it.

The physical production (sets, costumes and lighting)  was pretty straightforward.  It incorporated a number of moments where we watched the set changing (called: a vista) which helped solve a number of the challenges of the piece (it moves from one location to another while the music is playing…also, Santa Fe Opera chose to combine acts one and two and thus having one intermission rather than two).  No big revelations; just a physical production that mostly facilitated and — perhaps most importantly — got out of the way of the music and interaction between the singers rather than steal any kind of focus or make a “statement.”

All in all a lovely evening.

This is the weekend that Santa Fe Opera invites opera company general/artistic directors and agents from around the world not only to see the shows, but also to hear the young artists in audition. Today we heard half of the forty apprentice artists participating in this summer’s festival (we hear the remaining artists tomorrow).  There was much good singing to be heard.  I was particularly impressed that a few of them are still finishing up grad school which means there are some good talents coming up to us.

Yesterday I met with an agent who represents some of the most famous singers in the industry.  He’s been a good friend for a number of years and has an excellent pair of ears. He also understands how to work with different sized companies including the Met as well as Utah Opera and much smaller companies.  If you saw DON GIOVANNI, the Donna Anna (Susanna Phillips) is one of his up and coming clients.  I look forward to bringing her back to Utah in 2010.   Oh yes, Renee Fleming is another.  Anyway, we had some really good discussion about casting for our upcoming seasons and I’m excited for what might happen in the future.

This morning we had breakfast with the casting person from Houston Grand Opera and the Director of the Metropolitan National Council Auditions (e.g. the Met Auditions).  In addition, our own Carol Anderson joined us (she works for Santa Fe Opera in the summers along with our own chorus master, Susanne Sheston) and the new up and rising soprano star: Heidi Stober.  Heidi is enjoying her second summer in Santa Fe and we’ll see her perform in the Handel opera, RADAMISTO tomorrow night.  Heidi is an alum of our own Ensemble Program for young artists.  She went on to the Houston Grand Opera Studio program and this fall will be singing with Deustsche Oper in Berlin.  This is an amazing opportunity for Heidi to perform with an international company which — trust me on this — will lead to MANY more international performing opportunities.  I’m fairly sure this one is going to be a star.  And her beginnings were with Utah Opera!

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