The Legacy of Camille Saint-Saëns

Utah Symphony Artist Logistics Coordinator Erin Lunsford takes care of the many guest artists and guest conductors that perform with the orchestra. She holds a Bachelor of Music in Bassoon Performance from the University of North Carolina, and still enjoys playing bassoon and studying music history in her spare time.  

LEGACY OF A CARNIVAL

When one thinks of the music of 19th-century French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), what comes to mind? Perhaps the sultry Middle Eastern melodies of Samson et Delila, or the triumphant, brassy finale of the “Organ” Symphony. Perhaps even the glittery, whimsical tunes that permeate Carnival of the Animals. These are all fantastic examples of Saint-Saëns’ unmatched musical style, but there is so much more to this composer than his few most famous works.

Saint-Saëns left an immense musical legacy behind, having written five symphonies, five piano concertos, several operas (and operettas), incidental music, a wide breadth of chamber music, and numerous works for solo piano and solo organ. The Saint-Saëns Project focuses mainly on the composer’s five symphonies; only one of which is regularly performed by American orchestras (Symphony No. 3, his final attempt at the form). Additionally, the Utah Symphony will record some of his more well-known, shorter orchestral works, including Bacchanale from Samson et Delila, Danse macabre, and ‒ perhaps his most famous work of all ‒ Carnival of the Animals.

Saint-Saëns occupied a particularly unique stylistic space in his compositions; bringing the influences of the composers he most admired (Liszt, Wagner, Mendelssohn, and Beethoven, to name a few) as well as the musical idioms of far-flung destinations (including Egypt, Algeria, and Japan) into the sphere of French Romanticism. Similar to the Romantic Movement that took hold in Austria and Germany in the mid-1800s, French Romanticism was marked by a preoccupation with drama on a historical and an individual level, a heightened interest in national identity, and a general expansion or rejection of existing musical structures. As some of his late-19th-century contemporaries were forging new paths at the edges of tonal music, Saint-Saëns was firmly rooted in the classical conventions of French composers before him, making him an unusual figure within the framework of the Romantic period. Despite this, his signature use of colorful harmony influenced the French Impressionist composers that would rise to popularity toward the end of his life. The confluence of these seemingly disparate stylistic attributes is what makes Saint-Saëns’ music so intoxicating and irresistible. He is able to seamlessly weave unusual, exotic harmonies and melodic lines into ingrained musical forms, simultaneously surprising and delighting the listener’s ear.

SAINT-SAЁNS RECORDING CYCLE

Saint-Saëns’ music is clearly worth learning and exploring, but why record so much of it? As our Vice President of Operations and General Manager, Jeff Counts, wrote in a playbill feature last year, recording raises the level of artistic excellence and focus in an ensemble. Beyond that, recording also allows an orchestra to put its distinct interpretation of a work into the world, to stand and be judged among other orchestras’ interpretations. In the case of Saint-Saëns, however, some works have rarely been recorded at all. For example, his Trois tableaux symphoniques après La foi – another non-symphonic orchestral work that will be included in the recording project – has been commercially recorded less than ten times. This recording project on European label, Hyperion, will make the Utah Symphony the first American orchestra to record all of Saint-Saëns’ five symphonies, giving the orchestra the extraordinary opportunity to become a leading voice in the interpretation of Saint-Saëns’ works.

While many contemporaries and students of Saint-Saëns considered him to be a genius, his influence is certainly felt less in the orchestral world today.  For this reason, recording three discs worth of his music will be no easy feat, especially because this music is both technically and artistically difficult. Due to the logistical challenges of live recording, most of the repertoire that will be recorded is piled into consecutive weeks. Recording weeks are exhausting, as players are operating at the highest possible level of artistic awareness. Nevertheless, our musicians are certainly up to the task. Over the past five seasons, the Utah Symphony has taken on many symphonic cycles, covering some of the most revered symphonists in history (Beethoven and Brahms) as well as composers who challenged the very idea of what defined a symphony (Mahler and Ives). It is now time to shift the focus to a composer whose works, as Music Director Thierry Fischer has pointed out, truly embody the artistic identity of the Utah Symphony in their audacity, spunk, excellence, bravery, creativity, and – perhaps most importantly – their balance between tradition and diversity. How fitting a challenge to further Saint-Saëns’ legacy.

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Pre-concert Rituals: William Hagen

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. Here is what violinist and Utah native William Hagen had to say about his.

William Hagen, violin

My first instinct, when asked about a pre-concert ritual or routine, is to say that I have none, or that I’m still working on figuring out what mine is. However, I realize that there are two things that I do very consistently on concert days; the first is to make sure that I have reasonably good blood sugar when I walk on stage. I have Type 1 Diabetes, so I have to be aware of what’s going on with my body before a concert. To lower the risk of high or low blood sugar, I try to stick to low-carb food and I try not to eat 3-4 hours before a concert—this simplifies things and makes my blood sugar more stable and predictable. The second part of my routine is to make sure that I have no wardrobe malfunctions – there are many components of a tux that can go awry. Actually, there are many components of any kind of concert garb that can go (and have gone) awry. I’ve heard stories about people walking on stage in a suave tux, everything in order, only to look down for a moment to find that they are wearing white sneakers. What a performer is wearing really doesn’t matter too much to me, because the main focus should be the music, but a wardrobe malfunction can turn into a major distraction. It’s hard to take someone completely seriously when their fly’s down.

See William Hagen in Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances November 3-4, 2017 here.

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Pre-concert Rituals: Patricia Kopatchinskaja

Patricia Kopatchinskaja Photo: Marco Borggreve

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. Here is what Patricia Kopatchinskaja who will perform with us in Fischer conducts Beethoven’s Fifth had to say about her pre-concert ritual.

The performing artist has to present a work of art. Her duty is to give this work the maximum of impact. To achieve this, the performer has to channel all her energies, all her talents, power, and personality into this performance. One could say that the performer has somehow to ‘become’ the piece.

Of course, the performer has to know the piece: its score, its history. She has to have the technique ready, which is the task of a lifetime. But most important is to carry in her heart and mind — her very personal and unrepeatable vision of the piece.

On performance day I try to avoid any distraction: no telephones, no visits, no interviews, no photo sessions, no bad news. On a nice day after breakfast I might jog outside for half an hour and then I might practice perhaps for half an hour, but one never should expend too much energy because it will be needed in the evening. The most important is the nap in the afternoon. There will perhaps be a stage or a microphone rehearsal but normally I just stay in the artist room and concentrate. I cannot eat before concerts, but I need half a banana and something to drink. And then I am ready for battle…

See what else Patricia had to say about her work here.

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Social Snapshot

There’s no rest for the weary! After the Great American Road Trip, we wasted no time getting back into Abravanel Hall to start off our season. We kicked things off with Raiders of the Lost Ark from our Films in Concert series, helped celebrate the Utah Opera’s 40th Anniversary Gala, and started our Masterworks series on a high note with Beethoven’s Violin Concerto.

Here are the best moments from these performances:

 

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The Great American Road Trip: Best of Bluff

If you’re stopping by Bluff on your way to the Utah Symphony’s Great American Road Trip performance here are some great places the locals recommend visiting.

Enjoy a meal at the Comb Ridge Bistro

This American style café has a long-standing tradition in the Bluff area. Established in 2005, Comb Ridge used to be a Navajo Twins Trading Post in the early 1970s. With excellent service and ambiance, the Bistro’s menu offers delicious food for every meal and includes a wide selection of alcoholic beverages for your enjoyment. The Comb Ridge Bistro supports the work of talented local artists displaying various landscape paintings, Navajo inspired artwork, and traditional stone jewelry.

Visit the restored Bluff Fort Historical Site

The Bluff Fort visitors center offers free guided tours daily with engaging staff ready to show you around and answer your questions Learn the history of the Mormon pioneers, who settled in Bluff, through audio-visual displays, a fully loaded covered wagon, and photography of the early residents and more. Take the chance to dress in pioneer attire and take a picture pulling an authentic pioneer handcart.

Walk the Hole In the Rock Trail

Through some of the most rugged and unforgiving terrain in North America, the Hole in the Rock Trail was built by the pioneers in 1879-80. The trail received its name from a crevice the colonizers utilized to gain access to the Colorado River gorge. Make unforgettable memories with a visit the trail! Marvel at its beauty and remember the challenges overcome by the original Bluff settlers.

Are you still not convinced this will be the best musical road trip of your life? Just take a look at this:

 

See you on the road!

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Get the Most out of the Great American Road Trip

It’s just not summer without an unforgettable road trip – and this summer, we’re embarking on an adventure to southern Utah. Pack a bag and plan for our concerts in Springdale, Bluff, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Goblin Valley State Park, and Vernal Brewing Company.

To make your trip even more memorable, here are our recommendations:

First Things First

Forget about the concert hall because we’ll be performing in the great outdoors! Since we’re outside, you won’t want to forget about the necessities. Bring something to sit on (a camping chair or blanket), a sweater for when it gets cold, bug repellant, sunscreen, and an umbrella (just in case!)

Pack a Picnic

The best part of being in an outdoor venue is that you can bring snacks. You could always bring sandwiches and celery sticks, or you could always make your picnic special by trying a new recipe or picking something up from a favorite local spot like Swig in St. George.

Make Memories

You’ll want to remember this extraordinary experience! Don’t forget to pack your camera and (dare we say it?) a selfie stick so you can capture incredible memories at the concert. We love connecting with people at our concerts, so follow and tag us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and tag your photos with #utahsymphonyroadtrip.

Tune into a Playlist

What’s a road trip without the perfect playlist? Whether you’re traveling from Salt Lake to Springdale or from Blanding to Bluff, we have the ideal music to set the mood for your journey. Get a preview of our repertoire for the concert or listen to a list of music inspired by the majestic night sky of southern Utah.

Stay for a Star Party

The best part about being in southern Utah is being under the stars. Take your concert experience to a new level by staying after the concert for a star party. This collaboration between us, the University of Utah’s Consortium for Dark Sky Studies, and the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative will allow you to explore the night sky through lectures provided by park rangers and local astronomers, as well as have viewing opportunities on high-powered telescopes.

Register for a star party here.

You won’t want to miss these free concerts and star parties, so get your tickets here. Bon voyage!

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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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