Orchestra In-Sight Concert

For secondary and college students and their teachers
Thursday, March 26, 7 pm
Abravanel Hall
$3 students, $5 teachers

I’m very excited about the Orchestra In-Sight concert on March 26. Keith Lockhart and the Utah Symphony offer this shorter, earlier, less expensive and less formal concert at Abravanel Hall for secondary and college students, and their teachers. Maestro Lockhart will talk about each piece before it is played and will take questions from the audience after the concert. These pieces, along with a John Adams piece and the Korngold Violin Concerto (performed by Viviane Hagner) can also be heard Friday and Saturday, March 27 and 28.

Music of American composer Charles Ives will be featured on the Orchestra In-Sight concert. If you don’t know the music of Charles Ives you couldn’t have a better introduction.   This American composer, who had the economic security of a successful career as an insurance agent, composed largely to his own muse. His small town New England musical experience was formed by what he heard in church (including his years as church organist), the music of the village band directed by his father, and the rural countryside. Much of his early introduction to music came from his father whose musical curiosity led him to experiment with quarter tones, polytonality and ‘poly-melodies.’ Indeed, the elder Ives sometimes sent different parts of the town band to a variety of locations, with each playing variations on a particular melody at the same time, just to hear the effect that would have. Charles Ives developed his great sense of curiosity, exploration and delight in music from his father.

Variations on America

Charles Ives is about 15 years old in this picture. Two years later he wrote his set of Variations on America for organ. William Schuman has done a terrific job orchestrating Ives’ organ music. He has kept the whimsy, balancing the patriotic seriousness with playful afterthoughts shared throughout sections of the orchestra. Indulge your impulse to chuckle at what you’re hearing; Ives would appreciate it. And while it’s the earliest composed Ives piece on the program, it will be the last piece on the concert. You might leave wishing you had been so clever as to create these variations – or be inspired to see if you can do Ives one better!

You can listen to these variations here:

Watch for another blog entry about other Ives music on this program.

Children’s Opera Showcase

Every year Utah Opera is involved in the creation and production of 15-20 new operas:  they are 10-15 minutes operas put together by children working with their classroom teacher and a mentor composer, and they represent a broad range of learning. Teachers attend a summer training workshop with Utah Opera, and then, depending on teacher direction, the students may learn about another culture, or learn to write a specific genre of story-telling, or do an in-depth study of a time period or place in Social Studies.  Students improve their writing skills as they create scenes in their story and then craft lyrics for songs in their ‘libretto.’ They learn about the elements of music as they build melodies with the guest composer. Next, they often help plan and create (with parental assistance sometimes) the set and costumes for their opera, while they are auditioning and rehearsing in their roles. Finally, they perform and evaluate their own work.

It’s a gutsy project for a teacher to take on, but one that teachers know is helpful in their students’ learning; the project always gives the children multiple opportunities to learn social skills: how to collaborate and cooperate with others in a group effort.

Every year we present 3 of the year’s creations in a Children’s Opera Showcase, in the Jeanne Theatre in the Rose Wagner Center, 138 West 300 South.  This year’s operas will be

  • The Journey Home by 1st graders at Dilworth Elementary (Suzanne Parry, teacher)
  • The Road of the Ruby by 3rd graders at South Weber Elementary (Michele McGarry, teacher)
  • Dragon Fable by 6th graders at Woodrow Wilson Elementary (Pam Johnson, teacher)

The performance will begin at 6:30 PM on Friday, March 20. The event is free, with no tickets required. The public is invited to come for 1, 2 or all 3 operas. There is time between shows as sets are changed for the audience to come and go.

Here are some great comments from the teacher at Woodrow Wilson, Pam Johnson:

from an e-mail on October 16, 2008:

My class is so excited—I’ve never seen kids take to opera like this.  They love listening to arias while they work, they’ve enjoyed watching (and singing along with) clips from a few that I’ve downloaded from U Tube.  We have been learning some music theory—intervals, pitch up when a phrase is going to continue, pitch down at the end, etc.  All of it has been really enjoyed by the students.

They know some basics about what they are writing.  It’s going to be about bullying, but the story will be middle ages with a dragon.  They decided dragons were the ultimate bullies of the middle ages.  They’ve done some dress up trying to figure out characters, etc. Tuesday they wrote in their journals about possible characters or storylines and it was so fun to see what they came up with.

As you can tell I’m really impressed with the way this is going.  It has given me a terrific way to integrate their language arts.  I’m waiting to hear about a grant from Granite Education Foundation that would allow me to purchase midi keyboards to hook into my computers so they can play and compose on the computer.

from an e-mail on Feb 7, 2009:

We are having a BALL with this project.  Aaron has been a dream to work with as a composer and we are finalizing our last song this week.

We will be casting the opera this coming week and beginning rehearsals.

I wrote a grant and got midi keyboards the kids have been using to learn about writing music, as well as an additional $100 for sets/costumes/etc.

We are scheduled to perform at our school ARTS night, March 26.  This has been fun, but an interesting challenge since almost 1/3 of my class are non-English speakers or very limited English speakers.  For a while I thought we were going to be humming our songs!!  I also have people in our community (South Salt Lake) who are ready to support us so that should make rehearsing a little easier.

I am sending a rough copy of the script so you can see what the kids have helped produce.  They decided to call the show “Dragon Fable”.  Thanks again for this opportunity; we are truly having a good experience.

Art Exhibit Opening for USUO Illustrator

Artist Traci O’Very Covey who illustrated the award-winning promotional images for the Utah Opera for four recent seasons, opens a showing of her latest paintings at Palmers Gallery on Friday, March 20 from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm. This solo exhibit will run from March 20 to April 11 at 378 West 300 South in Salt Lake City. O’Very Covey says her passion for music is apparent in these new paintings. “My recent paintings are colorful compositions of women, musical instruments, birds, elements from nature and mythology. I express the symbolism of my subject through an interweaving of design, dramatic color combinations and flattened stylized shapes, all defined by curving lines.” she says, “I loved illustrating each of the operatic stories and also the images for Renard, Pierrot Lunaire and La Vie Parisienne Festival that I created for the Utah Symphony.”

Her music themed illustrations have been seen locally on the posters for the Salt Lake City International Jazz Festival, the Utah Symphony banners in front of Abravanel Hall, and in New Orleans decorating the sides of buses. Educated at the University of Utah, O’Very Covey specializes in illustration and graphic design for both local and national clients. You can see more of her work at www.tracioverycovey.com

Utah Symphony musicians at the Kol Ami Concert Series

Utah Symphony violinist Carol Borman presented a formidable evening of chamber music by new Jewish composers at Kol Ami on January 16, 2009 at 7 pm.  Despite the foreboding weather (and even some talk of postponing the concert) there was an enthusiastic crowd of about 50 people in attendance. (There were about 40 prepaid ticket holders, including some who canceled because of the weather).

The program opened with Songs from The Owl and Pussycat as sung by soprano Channel Wood, a fabulous new talent from Utah Opera.  She certainly stole the show!  Next Carey Cheney, adjunct professor from the University of Utah, performed and spoke eloquently about the Concerto for Cello by Jacobi. After a brief intermission, Carol performed a charming Variations on a Theme by Paradis (who was a talented woman composer form the 1700’s).  The concert ended with a flash of virtuosity by Carol, Russell Harlow, and Heather Conner performing Paul Schoenfeld’s Trio for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano. The audience greeted them with a standing ovation.  A reception with wine, cheese, and fruit followed the concert.
I only wish that more people could have braved the weather to hear this exciting program.  Kudos to Carol for her exciting performance and all the hard work that was put into organizing this concert!

The Kol Ami Concert Series will present 3 more programs this season:

“Gypsy Rondo to Dumka” March 15, 2009 at 7:00 pm
Hyunsoon Whang, associate piano professor at Cameron University in Oklahoma joins Lun Jiang and Pegsoon Whang, two members of the Utah Symphony, to perform Haydn’s Gypsy, the Brahms’ Violin Sonata in A, and the Dumky Trio by Dvorak. Hyunsoon Whang is a Julliard and Indiana University graduate who has performed all over Asia and Europe as well as in the United States. Lun Jiang has won numerous chamber music competitions and has released 2 CDs. Pegsoon and Hyunsoon have been playing music together since they were children, and adding Lun to the mix should be even more fun.

Utah Symphony violinist Lynn Maxine Rosen, bass clarinetist David Asman, Utah Symphony principal clarinetist Tad Calcara, violist Joel Rosenberg, and friends will perform a program on May 4, 2009. Please note this is a Monday night. These will include a daunting piece entitled The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, by Osvaldo Golijov.

Tad Calcara and the New Deal Swing Band will end the season on May 31, 2009 with a fabulous tribute to Benny Goodman as the world observes the King of Swing’s 100th birthday. The concert will feature sixteen of Salt Lake City’s best Jazz musicians performing actual scores written in the 1930s & 40s obtained from the Benny Goodman estate. In addition historic film footage of Benny Goodman will be shown along with displays of Goodman memorabilia. Live, music, dancing, and refreshments are all part of this centennial tribute to our first pop culture hero, clarinetist/bandleader Benny Goodman!

Don’t miss the great line up of music at Kol Ami this spring! For tickets, contact Sarah Stein at 801-484-1501 ext. 21.

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.

Week 1 of the “Toast to Vienna” Festival

This week the Festival opened, featuring 2 lectures and a dance lesson. The lecture on Tuesday, Feb 17th, was by U of U history professor Emily Michelson. She used a PowerPoint presentation to show us how the Hapsburg Empire grew and shrank by turns over 6 centuries of family ownership and inheritance. The Habsburgs were famous for expanding empire through strategic marriages more than by warfare. There was even a poem written about this.

Let the strong fight wars
Thou happy Austria marry
What Mars bestows on others
Venus gives to thee!

There was also a lot of inbreeding among the royal family, and perhaps the ‘Habsburg jaw’ was the result of that—an extremely jutting lower jaw.  Emily said there was reportedly one Habsburg whose lower jaw jutted far so forward he couldn’t close his mouth even to prevent the rain from falling in.

One final memorable tidbit concerns a rather unbelievable Latin family motto from the early days of the Empire: “Austria est Imperare Orbi Universo,” or Austria is the ruler of the universe,” which can conveniently be represented by AEIOU. Apparently there are still buildings and places around Vienna where this abbreviation appears.

During the Feb 18th lecture on the Art and Architecture of Vienna, our art history professor, Alexandra Karl, told us that in 1857 the walls around the old city of Vienna were taken down (the city had expanded beyond them, and the terror of the Ottoman Turks was passed), and around the circle were build resplendent buildings in many historical styles.

She focused especially on a modern visual art movement that came out of Vienna in the late 1800s, eventually called Jugenstil. Gustav Klimt (‘The Kiss’) was its famous leader. The Secession Museum that was eventually built to house the artwork of these rebel artists, whose style can be compared to better-known (to us) Art Nouveau, has a big golden open sphere on top that led people to call the place ‘the big cabbage.’ We saw part of Klimt’s “Beethoven Friez” and learned about an exhibition about The Nude with an amazing promotion: for a time period when it opened, people got in free if they stripped down themselves to see the exhibit, and lots of people did.

One February 19th, 24 people learned a Viennese waltz routine. We were rather amazing, I thought. And we were a diverse group:  several couples who had danced together for years, some members of the opera chorus and some of our opera young artists, 2 recent high school grads from Murray (girls who enjoy doing random fun things, they said), a young man who is going to the opera and wanted to check out the class, and a mother with her 11-year-old daughter who are taking our virtual Vienna trip for a family vacation this year. Andrea Hale, who has a ballroom dance studio in Draper, was our guide and teacher. She taught us the basic footwork and got us moving to the quick tempo. We bowed, did quarter turns, different kinds of balancés, underarm turns and spins, that thrilled us all.  We were amazed at what we all could learn in an hour, and are all yearning to go to a ball now and show off our steps.

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.

Tchaikovsky’s 1st Piano Concerto: A Rough Start

What’s the secret to composing a piece of music that becomes one of the most famous and beloved in the Classical repertoire? Have the original performers, conductor, or critics hate it. Or even better: dedicate it to a soloist who denounces it after the first run-through.

An unreceptive soloist was precisely the dilemma Tchaikovsky faced with his first piano concerto. Having wrestled with the composition for months, Tchaikovsky finally had a preliminary form to present to the piece’s intended soloist, Nikolai Rubinstein. After Tchaikovsky played through the piece at the Petersburg Conservatory for him, Rubinstein viciously described it as “banal, clumsy, and incompetently written”—in short, unplayable.

Tchaikovsky refused to rework the piece for Rubinstein, and instead rededicated it to Hans von Bülow. In the fall of 1875, Bülow premiered the piece in Boston during his American tour. Audiences in Boston and New York loved the piece and demanded a repeat of the finale, and Bülow himself admired the piece for being “original and noble.” Although critics remained unenthused.

Since then, the work has become one of Tchaikovsky’s most popular compositions, and one of the best-known piano concertos in Western music. The main theme gained familiarity among a new generation of Americans as it introduced Orson Welles’ “Mercury Theatre” Radio Program, and as the melody in Big Bandleader Freddy Martin’s “Tonight We Love.” Winning the First International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958, Van Cliburn gave the piece worldwide recognition.

Tchaikovsky’s 1st Piano Concerto
February 20 & 21 | 8 PM
Abravanel Hall
Learn more >>

Avoiding disaster with the Roman Carvinal Overture

Berlioz salvaged the music that would become the Roman Carnival Overture from his failed 1838 opera, Benvenuto Cellini. The opera’s premiere had been a disaster: the orchestra struggled with the music, the singers abhorred their parts, and the conductor, François-Antoine Habeneck, ignored all of Berlioz’s instructions. The resulting debacle forced the Paris Opera’s management to cancel the rest of the opera’s performances.

By 1843, Berlioz turned what he could of Benvenuto Cellini into the Roman Carnival Overture. By the premiere, however, the piece was facing perils similar to its parent piece’s fate. With only one rehearsal prior to the first performance and the winds called to National Guard duties the morning of the first performance, things looked grim for the Roman Carnival.

Berlioz, however, showed unwavering faith in his work and the orchestra. He conducted the piece that evening flawlessly, and it was reportedly impossible to guess that there had been no rehearsal. The Overture even enjoyed an encore performance due to audience demands.

Leaving the stage, Berlioz passed Habeneck, who had attended the performance in the hopes of basking in another Berlioz disaster. Reminding Habeneck of the carnival scene in the opera, Berlioz explained, “That’s how it goes.”

Hear the piece that just avoided disaster this weekend at the Utah Symphony. Learn more on utahsymphony.org.

Why REGINA?

Presenting a non-standard repertoire piece such as REGINA which is currently playing at the Capitol Theatre is always rewarding and interesting: Rewarding because it provides an opportunity for the performers, staff and audience to have a completely new discovery experience; and interesting as it can often bring in a new audience while challenging an established one. This also comes with a whole host of responses we don’t usually receive when presenting the standards.

On the whole, REGINA has been enthusiastically received by those who have attended including wonderful reviews from both the Salt Lake Tribune review  and Deseret News review. However, in all honesty, I’ve heard from a handful of people that did not care for the piece and even inferred that it was a mistake to program it in the first place.  Add to this the fact that it is often difficult for single ticket buyers to get interested in and commit to something with which they are unfamiliar, it’s not uncommon for people to inquire, “so, why REGINA?”

The answer is multi-faceted. The first is that presenting the unfamiliar is simply part of the Company’s philosophical/artistic mission. We are dedicated to bringing fine opera in all its forms to the community. While a few audience members may not have appreciated REGINA, many would passionately argue that it is not only a wonderful work (with a few flaws, to be sure) but that it is a highlight of a specific genre of American opera that had long reaching influence on future works and composers like Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim (both were staunch advocates of the composer and the opera). The other side to this is that REGINA has enjoyed presentations in most large markets in the United States and I wish to give Salt Lake City some of the same experiences one can find elsewhere.

Another reason is that the work is a vehicle to showcase not only fine American artists (very difficult for non-Americans to pull off idioms of the American South at the turn of the 20th C.) but those artists who are also fine acting singers. The title role is especially known as a powerhouse acting one and we had the opportunity to present several of this country’s fine acting singers throughout the cast.

One of the positives of presenting REGINA that was unknown at the time of scheduling this season, was the fact that the piece has been particularly well-received by younger audiences.  I’ve been delighted by the response of our younger staff members who have – across the board – expressed how much they liked it. Beyond this, the Company’s social group that is primarily made up of 20 and 30-year-olds, VIVACE, chose the production for one of their annual organized events with nearly 100 percent positive response to the work. If such operas have this kind of resonance with the audiences that can sustain us for the next forty years, then we need to consider doing more of them.

The initiative we need to be working on is how to gain the trust of our larger audiences that love our productions of the standards. We need to help everyone feel that when one comes to a Utah Opera performance, there will be something that can be appreciated; whether it is the performers, the sets, the costumes or the music. To be sure, everyone has – and is entitled to – one’s own taste which may be the staples of the repertoire. However, there are always jewels of operas that we all have yet to discover because, for one reason or another, they are less-frequently presented and we haven’t had the opportunity to experience them. For many, REGINA fit that bill.