Pre-concert Rituals: Boris Giltburg

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 guest artists to share what pre-concert rituals help keep them grounded.

It would be so cool to have a formula that would guarantee you a good performance! No stress, no worries, just do a) b) c) and d) and you’re fresh and in top shape, every single time. (That might sound a little boring, but, oh, it would be such a hard thing to refuse). Unfortunately, despite dreaming of such a formula for years and thinking, multiple times, that I’ve stumbled on it, I haven’t really. The closest I came is finding that there is—perhaps!—a formula, one that would work for one specific day and one specific performance. But how to find it, without the help of hindsight or a personal coach?

An afternoon nap is good—unless you wake up with a heavy head. A relaxing walk to take your mind off the performance is good—unless you’re so excited that your brain seems to contain ten Energizer Bunnies who wouldn’t stay quiet. Even the bowl of pasta you always swear by («slow-burn energy!») may find itself sitting uneasily in your stomach next to the superfluous pannacotta, both not quite helping concentration. Or you may be in a country where no serious food is to be found at all between 2:30 PM (when you’re still rehearsing) and 7 PM (by which time you’re already warming up backstage, your heart so thumping with adrenaline that no thought of even a sandwich would dare to encroach). Even practicing—the most obvious thing to do—can sometimes reach a point at which it’s more beneficial to close the lid of the piano and go outside for some fresh air.

So, a concert day might be a combination of some (or all) of the above—but the moment of going onstage and playing for the audience is the highest point of the day, guaranteed, and with no formula needed.

An Ode to Bernstein: 6 reasons Leonard Bernstein was a classical music superstar

I have long admired American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. Not only do I love his musicworks that have been enjoyed and listened to by both music theorists and lovers of popular musicbut I also respect him as an engaged activist showing support for social issues like racial equality and LGBT issues.

He was a superstar in his time and his music is still amazing today. Many know him for his musical West Side Story (I love this clip of the gym scene from the movie version with Jerome Robbins’s choreography), and while I think that this piece is a huge reason to give him superstar status, here are six more reasons that Bernstein rocks my socks.

#1 He was an incredible concert pianist

Bernstein’s first love was the piano and he often was featured as a concert pianist in his younger days playing pieces like Ravel’s concerto in G (he conducted and played the piano part in London). His virtuosity at the piano also helped him conduct musicals from the piano when necessary.

#2 His orchestral and choral works will blow you away

As a composer, some of Bernstein’s greatest works were his works for orchestra. He wrote 3 symphonies and a variety of other works for orchestral instruments. One of the works which stands out to me is his second Symphony, the Age of Anxiety, which features the piano in an almost concerto-like way. I remember seeing the piece performed when I was an 8th grader and being impressed by the pianist’s virtuosity and the orchestral color of the piece. I love this YouTube video setting an excerpt of the Age of Anxiety with paintings by Piet Mondrian. You can hear the whole piece this weekend, February 23 and 24, at Abravanel Hall. In addition, Utah Symphony and the Utah Symphony Chorus are doing Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms March 2-3, 2018.

#3 He broadcast lectures about classical music

As part of NBC’s Omnibus series, discussing science, arts, and humanities, Bernstein gave lectures about music using the NBC Symphony Orchestra discussing composers, conducting, and modern music. One of the first was his discussion about Beethoven’s 5th symphony. He also invested in the future of classical music with his Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic.

#4 His work took both the musical theatre and opera worlds by storm

Along with West Side Story, Bernstein was known for several other Broadway shows including On the Town and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Bernstein also composed the operas Trouble in Tahiti and Candide. I love the original recording of Barbara Cook singing “Glitter and be Gay,” but recently discovered Kristen Chenoweth’s delightful recording of the aria.

#5 He was an internationally-renowned conductor

Bernstein’s influence extended to the concert halls of the world as a virtuoso conductor on par with Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. Not only did he elevate many of the great orchestras of the United States, but he was internationally recognized while conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and while conducting at La Scala in Milan. One of my favorite videos of Leonard Bernstein features him conducting with his face and eyebrows, and nothing else.

#6 He had a strong sense of social responsibility

Bernstein drew upon his music and own life experiences to help others. He was outspoken about injustice, and he used his music and visibility to draw attention to issues like socioeconomic inequality and integration of arts into education among many others. One of my favorite quotes by Leonard Bernstein is this:

“This will be our reply to violence. To make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

He used music for this purpose throughout his entire life.

Paul Leland Hill is a member of the education staff at Utah Symphony Utah Opera. When he is not handling outreach for the opera to the community, you can find him singing in the chorus of the Utah Opera and composing music.

Off-Score: A look into the off-stage passions of Utah Symphony members

Principal Flutist Mercedes Smith strives to empower youth through the natural structure and leadership opportunities an orchestra provides.

“I’ve been here for five and a half years,” Smith said. “It’s such a beautiful place to live, it’s so wonderful waking up and seeing the mountains every morning.” Prior to living in Utah, Smith lived in Dallas as the Principal Flutist for the Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet Orchestras. In her free time, she loves to cook, work with non-profit organizations, practice yoga, and slowly but surely renovate her home.

In March of 2017, Thierry Fischer and 14 Utah Symphony musicians volunteered during their spring breaks and teamed up with BLUME Haiti (Building Leaders Using Music Education) to teach 100 young Haitian musicians. Every section of the symphony, with the exception of tuba and harp, was represented. “I was slightly hesitant at first because it was my vacation week,” said Smith, “but I went and had the best time. It’s such a beautiful place.”

“The people are so positive despite all the hardships they’ve been through. They don’t lack in intelligence or work ethic, just opportunities, so we went there to create the opportunities for them.”

The musicians worked with students from 9 AM to 1 PM. “We would do everything from the basic fundamentals of scales and tone exercises, to private lessons, to masterclasses. Really anything that filled up four hours.” Following their instruction, the students rehearsed for their concert as an ensemble with Maestro Thierry Fischer.

She taught five young adults that all had their own students. Pupils that were too old for the program could audit the class, and students that were too young benefitted from trainings their teachers received. “There were around 100 students in the program last year, but I think we reached closer to 1,000, and that’s in schools all throughout Haiti,” she said.

Before arriving in Haiti, Smith had no idea what to expect. “I was surprised at the high level some of them played at,” she said. “It’s clear that had they had the opportunities that we have here in the U.S. … they would have been able to excel far more than the level they were currently at.”

Political crises, natural disasters, and economic struggle make upward-class mobility extremely difficult. “It’s nearly impossible to get out of the middle class—and it’s not like our middle class. It really is poverty.” BLUME Haiti provides leadership opportunities, teaching youth that they are not stuck—differences in their community are possible.

After returning from Haiti, Smith continued to think about music as an agent of social change. “The thing is, we have a bit of this problem in our own country too,” Smith admits. “Kids that are poor tend to stay poor, or I guess we’re now starting to understand that not everyone has the same upward mobility that we may have once had.” She partnered with Salty Cricket Composer Collective’s ‘El Sistema,’ a non-profit after-school music program that provides 17 hours of after-school music instruction, free of charge to Jackson Elementary students in Rose Park.

Ms. Smith found BLUME Haiti and El Sistema worked hand in hand. “[El Sistema] is essentially doing the same thing BLUME Haiti is doing—empowering kids and teaching them about teamwork and leadership,” she said.

Based off the Venezuelan music education program, El Sistema is located in cities all throughout the United States. “I don’t know how long this program has been going, but it’s new,” Smith tells me. “Maybe 3-5 years old.” Currently, it only offers violin instruction but will be expanding to cellos and violas next year. “They need instrument donations, and they need to expand their budget,” she said.

Wanting to raise awareness and involve the Utah Symphony even further, Smith created “Saturdays with the Symphony,” a near-monthly exchange where one musician spends two hours with young students and their parents. “It’s basically a show-and-tell that’s 20 minutes long because the kids are so little.”

The musician plays a few pieces, speaks about their instrument, and discusses their journey studying music. “Then they have a little orchestra rehearsal, and we have the symphony member sit and play the little ‘Ode to Joy’ tune they’re working on,” she said. Following the concert is a potluck dinner where students and their families meet the musician. “It’s really such a motivating thing for the kids!”

Smith has made it her mission to expand the program to its full potential by utilizing the world-class talent available in Salt Lake City. “I really just want to help increase the visibility of this organization,” she said. “I want the symphony to do everything it can to help—that’s why I started this very small gesture of having one musician a month reach out to our community.”

In her experience, local Salt Lake initiatives don’t hold nearly as well as a large-scale Haiti trip would. “It amazes me how easy it is to fundraise for Haiti than it is to fundraise for children in our own community,” she said. “Jackson Elementary is a five-minute walk from the Utah Opera Production Studios.”

Interested in getting involved? You don’t have to be a professional musician to directly impact the lives of Salt Lake City youth.

First off, this Friday, February 16th, MOTUS (musicians of the Utah Symphony) After Dark will be holding a fundraiser at the jazz club Avant Groove, starting at 9 PM. Tickets can be bought online or at the door for 5$, and all the money raised directly benefits to El Sistema. “I think we’ve almost sold out all the VIP booths,” she said.

Secondly, El Sistema is accepting donations to expand the program to its full potential. Donations can be made online here.

If donations are not possible, Salty Cricket accepts volunteers of all kinds. If interested, please reach out to Victoria at Victoria@saltycricket.org, or by calling (919) 274-3845.

“[El Sistema] is small now, but it’s growing,” Smith says. “I can tell it’s going to be a huge thing in the future that affects so many children’s lives.”

To learn more about El Sistema’s Jackson Elementary program, visit their website.

 

2018-19 Season Announcement: Entertainment Series

If show tunes and spectacles are your thing, you’ll be thrilled for our new 2018-19 Entertainment Series! From West Side Story to My Fair Lady, the Utah Symphony strives to bring you some of the most incredible voices and pops music.

For being 100-years old, Leonard Bernstein sounds as great as ever! In honor of this master composer’s 100th birthday, we bring you Bernstein on Broadway. With classics like West Side Story and On the Town, you’ll be sure to be singing along.

Singer Morgan James will be joining us. You can hear her music here.

Portland’s favorite “little orchestra” is will join our big orchestra in “Joy to the World” with Pink Martini and the Utah Symphony. This holiday celebration will take you on a trip around the world with multi-cultural holiday songs. It’s a concert that’s sure to bring holiday joy and that your entire family will love!

Wouldn’t a night out with a special someone just be loverly?  Bring your Valentine to Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady with the Utah Symphony. This will be a semi-staged production with real Broadway singers in full-costume performing live to the orchestra.

“Amazing” doesn’t even cover it. Cirque Dances with Troupe Vertigo & the Utah Symphony will combine acrobatics, classical dance, and thrilling music all in explosive fashion. You’ll be telling everyone about this unbelievable performance.

Don’t miss a single, sing-able note of our 2018-19 Entertainment Series. Learn more and subscribe here.

Fall in love with “Dancing and Romancing”

Gershwin, Berlin, and Bernstein, oh my! Prepare to be swept off your feet this Valentine’s season with Utah Symphony’s “Dancing and Romancing” program February 9th and 10th at 7:30 PM. You’ll be swinging all evening to Hollywood golden-age classics, right alongside famed singers and dancers.

Not a dancer? Even better! Join us at 6:30 for dance lessons with local professionals Marcea and David Hess as they teach the basics of the waltz, cha-cha, and fox trot in the lobby. You might want dance all night, but after the class you’ll get to hear romantic show tunes played by the orchestra while Kirby Ward and Joan Hess sing and dance to the music.

The Irving Berlin song “Cheek to Cheek” was written in 1935 for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ movie Top Hat. It quickly rose to the top of the charts and was named the #1 song of 1935.

In 1956, beloved jazz singers Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald featured “Cheek to Cheek” on their 1956 album, Ella and Louis.

Today, “Cheek to Cheek” stands as an American classic, inspiring the name of a 2014 jazz album featuring Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett.

Who doesn’t love Chicago? Rouge your knees and roll your stockings down for the sultry “All That Jazz,” sung by Joan Hess and Kirby Ward.

After such a hot performance, cool down with Nacio Herb Brown’s song “Singin’ In The Rain.” First performed by Doris Eaton Travis at the Hollywood Music Box Revue, the song quickly became a smash hit, being recorded by a number of artists, including Cliff Edwards, Annette Hanshaw, and Judy Garland.

The song became a centerpiece for the classic 1952 musical film Singin’ in the Rain, starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds.

This superb collection of songs will entrance audience members of all ages. Grab your loved ones and enjoy Utah Symphony’s evening of reminiscing and celebration of life today.

Get your tickets to Dancing and Romancing here.

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

Pre-concert rituals: Stephen Hough

Professional musicians often spend much of their lives on the road performing in concert venues around the globe. Amid the hectic travel schedules, rehearsals, practice time and adjustments to a different time zone, culture and climate, regular routine is sacrificed. We ask our guest artists to share what pre-concert rituals help keep them grounded. Pianist, polymath, and Renaissance man, Stephen Hough gives us a peek into how he prepares for a show.

On the day of a concert, I have morning practice from about 10:30 to 1 PM. Then a substantial lunch, sushi is a favorite, and if a pudding is irresistible only a bite (or two). Then a walk, ideally somewhere where the spirit can soar, so a park, a museum, a surging cityscape. Then a nap, bedclothes thrown back, as if nighttime with the curtains firmly closed, phones unplugged, pillows fluffed, and unconsciousness for at least an hour. I set the alarm clock and at about two hours before the concert, I am out of bed. Then, with the kettle on, I travel with my own and the best tea bags I can find. I also usually just eat half a cookie to lift the mood a little. I Shower at full throttle–it takes the same time to brew a cup of tea as it does to wash your hair. I sip my mug of strong tea as I check emails. Then, dressed, I head over to the hall. I like to arrive about an hour before I’m due onstage. I like gentle, calm backstage practicing, most often on pieces other than the ones I’m playing that night. Then into concert clothes about ten minutes before going out from the wings. I hear the applause as I am bowing, then sitting on the bench, adjusting the stool, deep breath and…hands to keys, which is why I’m there in the first place.

But then there are the occasions when none of the above is possible. And, strangely, those are often the best concerts. Ah, the frustration and joy of the glorious unpredictability of being human!

Learn more about this amazing pianist in this video!

Family fun at the symphony!

When you think of family fun, what do you think of? For us, we think about our family nights at the symphony and opera! If you’ve never taken your kids to the symphony, it might seem a little daunting, but it’s absolutely worth it. A Utah family, Darrell and Marissa along with their children, had the opportunity to attend our Messiah Sing-in this year and loved it. Read on to see how much fun it was for them and their kids.

Tells us about your family.

We are Darrell and Marissa, and we have 4 children Gabe (12), Sam (9), Lauren (7), and Peter (2).

As a family, we enjoy the outdoors – hiking, biking, running, camping; and we also a love for music. All three of our older children play the piano, as well as their mother. As teenagers, both Marissa and I sang in a choir for 5+ plus years. Music is always being played or listened to in our home.

What concert did you attend?

The Messiah Sing-in concert. It was great to have such great seats for the kids to sit and enjoy the concert. It was great to be able to sing along with the choir on the specific choral pieces. After singing it in high school, Marissa and I forgot how quickly it moves along! It was great for the kids to participate in something so synonymous with the holiday season!

How did you enjoy the performance?

We loved the performance! Great way to start off the holiday season. Our kids also loved it. A couple of the songs were familiar to them but it was good for them to be able to hear the entire Messiah. They were amazed at how thick the book was to it.

As a parent, what was the biggest benefit to taking your kids to the symphony?

The biggest benefit of taking kids to the symphony is to expose them to and have them appreciate classical music—music that has been around for centuries and will be around for centuries more. Everyone should know what the classics are. Taking my children to these types of events also helps them to understand how to act differently, if you will, more appropriately during such events. Helps them know what is respect and how to show it.

Would you ever take them to the symphony again?

Yes, we would take our kids to the symphony again! Because they are all taking music from a teacher, this just gives them one more opportunity to learn more about music and how it affects our lives.

If your idea of fun is a night out at the symphony, learn more about Family Nights and our special family pricing here!

Pre-concert rituals: Conrad Tao

Professional musicians often spend much of their lives on the road performing in concert venues around the globe. Amid the hectic travel schedules, rehearsals, practice time and adjustments to a different time zone, culture and climate, regular routine is sacrificed. We ask our guest artists to share what pre-concert rituals help keep them grounded. Pianist and all-around creative genius, Conrad Tao, tells us about his pre-concert rituals in the best way he knows how: with poetry.

I’m still figuring out my pre-concert ritual.

#1

Are you frightened of
Ninety minutes
Three varieties
Lots of water
green room coffee and the
archetypal banana

#2

Last fall I got stuck in an elevator. This was in Ottawa, on a show day with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, a matinee on which I was performing two concerti, one by Schumann and one by Beethoven (the Emperor), and this was just past noon, after morning rehearsal and a mediocre lunch from a place whose name I don’t recall and this is all to say that I was looking forward to getting a half hour or so of silence in my hotel room, before changing into concert dress. The hotel elevator was about a half of a floor away from my floor when it kachunked into stillness. I loved every one of the fifty minutes I spent in that elevator. I was glad I was alone. I was so thoroughly tickled by this less-orthodox iteration of my usual preconcert enforcement of silence. I would not have been good company for someone with claustrophobia.

#3

As an apology the hotel brought me a fruit basket

This story will I be remembering slightly with a position of “this is why,” perceived

origin perhaps, because I don’t like going through the motions, that much is true

But I mourn the absence of ritual in my life at the risk of careless romanticizing

and sometimes I wonder if I don’t have enough discipline

Everything you need to know about taking your kids to the symphony

There’s no better feeling than being your kid’s hero—and you can cement your coolness for years to come by taking them to the symphony! Live, classical music can be a wonderful and moving way to bond with your children, and it will give them a memorable experience.

Feeling uncertain about taking your family to the symphony? It’s easier than you think! Here’s what you need to know and how you can make going to the symphony an experience your children will never forget:

Kids 5-18 can come to Utah Symphony performances!

Children as young as FIVE can enjoy our Masterworks symphonies, Entertainment concerts, and our new Films in Concert series. Our Family matinee concerts are still open to everyone (including babies).

You might think taking your kids to our world-class symphonies would be pretty daunting financially. But we are now offering special pricing for families. Look for designated “Family Nights” which offer a $30 Family Pass (for a family of four with a max of two adults). You can add up to six additional youth tickets onto your pass for $5 each.

Prepare for the piece you’re going to see

Classical music is always more exciting when you know everything about it! Take some time to look up articles and YouTube videos about the repertoire with your kids before you go. You can even download a playlist and play it while you’re taking your kids to school in the morning so they are more familiar with the work.

Music was meant to be fun! Try dancing or singing to the piece before you attend. You can also make a game of it by listening to the different instruments and pointing out what animals the music sounds like, or what story the music would tell if it could talk.

We suggest doing some research ahead of time to decide if a particular concert is something you’re comfortable taking your kids to. You can also call our ticket office at 801-533-6683 for more information on what to expect at any given concert.

Practice “going to the symphony” with your children

Sometimes taking your kids out of the house can be stressful. Will they sit still? Will they want to talk the whole time or kick the chair in front of them? These are all valid concerns, but you can definitely get some peace of mind if you practice the concert-going experience beforehand.

Try practicing what it’s like going to the concert hall—standing in line, taking tickets, finding your seat, knowing when to clap. You can cast family members to be ticket-takers, orchestra members, and ushers to make it more fun. This is an entertaining way to prepare your family for going to the concert hall for the first time, and it will minimize surprises when you get there.

Make a plan

A night out with the kids should be a memorable, enjoyable experience! To reduce potential stress, make a plan for your concert experience.  Of course you’ll want to pick out what you want to wear (you can go in whatever you were already wearing or dress up if you want) or where you want to eat beforehand (you can see some suggestions here), but you’ll also want to know the ins and outs of Abravanel Hall and the concert.

All of our regular concerts have a 20-minute intermission in the performance. This is a great time to take a bathroom break, grab a snack at the concession stand, or just walk around to get the wiggles out before settling back into your seat. Sometimes a full-length symphony is simply too much for a young, sleepy child to get through. If you need to leave for any reason, the intermission would be the best option to call it a night.

If your child has never attended an orchestra performance before and you are concerned about your child sitting through the concert without disrupting others, ask to be seated near a door or towards the back of the venue when you purchase your tickets so you can make a quick exit to the lobby if needed. There are large video screens that broadcast the performance in the lobby if you would prefer to view it out there.

We recommend arriving 30 minutes before the start of the performance. Sometimes traffic is heavy around Abravanel Hall (especially during the holiday season or a large convention), so you might consider leaving earlier than you think you need to. The best place to park is City Creek Center, or you can take the TRAX train to the “Temple Square” stop, which lets you off in front of the Abravanel Hall ticket office.

Ask them what they liked about the performance afterward

The symphony can be an enchanting experience for a kid! Don’t miss a single, magical moment of their experience—ask them what their favorite part of the concert was or what instrument they liked most. You’ll be amazed at how much they enjoyed it—they may even ask to come again!

Be sure to get your tickets to a Family Night! You can see our upcoming shows here.