SEPTEMBER 11, 2003
Be Somebody Cultured
The New ZING to the STRINGS of the Utah SYMPHONY & OPERA
By Christian Gentry

very state in the union has at least one professional symphony orchestra or opera company. In fact, maybe so many of these organizations exist because the younger generations ignore them. In reality, there are easier and more accessible alternatives to sitting down and reverently listening to a symphony play a piece by a guy who’s been dead for at least 100 years. These alternatives may include top-40 radio, the bar scene, big rock shows, small rock shows, pirated MP3s, pirated CDs, pirated music videos and everything else pirated. May I pose an alternative to the alternatives: the Utah Symphony and Opera’s 2003-04 season.

It is the second year of the infamous “merger” between the two largest professional music organizations in the valley. Despite the controversy, both the Utah Symphony and the Utah Opera, now the Utah Symphony & Opera, still seem to be on queue to provide an excellent and varied season of symphonic and operatic repertoire.

Of course, everyone that is anyone knows about this organization. Furthermore, anyone that is everyone has been to at least one symphony or opera performance. If you don’t fit into any of the above categories, that, of course, would make you a no one who is nobody. Obviously, no one wants to be a nobody. So, for all of you non-classical concert goers, there is a way to remedy your awful plight. Just GO!

Although there have been some concerns as to who wields the power over programming in the organization, Dredge says that Keith Lockhart still has complete say over the programming for the symphony.

Just go, huh? OK. But why? It raises a lot of questions. Isn’t the symphony and opera the locale for all the uppity-ups that have season tickets just for the sake of social status? Isn’t a night at the symphony set aside for all of the senior citizens as their only night of the week where they stay out later than 8 p.m? Don’t you have to be rich to go to the opera? Isn’t it just a bunch of fat ladies singing around on stage?

Some of these questions and criticisms of the opera and symphony are legitimate. True, members of the higher echelon of economic status tend to attend the programs. Yes, there tend to be more gray-hairs than not-so-gray-hairs sitting in the audience. You really don’t have to be rich, but a lot of wealth is needed to fund the organization. But the fat opera singers…well that is a big, fat misnomer. Some of them are so beyond not-fat that they are foxy.

But the history of the symphony and opera pre-date present-day qualms. In the past, there were groups with the financial power to create a forum through which the masters came out to compose and perform. Over centuries of social and political evolution, the orchestra and the opera acted as a mouthpiece with which the composers could communicate with the people of such change. One can’t help but think of Giuseppe Verdi pleading for an Italian national identity through his opera “Nabucco.” Or Dmitri Shostakovich, who carefully disguised his cynical outlook on communism through his vast body of symphonic works.

Regardless of the era or nation, the opera and the symphony have been the forces that have not only withstood the test of time, but have proven to be a tradition and medium where the present-day artist can channel his or her expression.

Elmar Oliviera will perform Russian pieces with the symphony in November.  

Conductor of the Utah Symphony, Keith Lockhart.

  Broadway singer, Linda Eder, will grace the symphony's Pops series in February.
The Program and its new Bells and Whistles

assandra Hartley, public relations assistant for Utah Symphony and Opera, indicated that in the midst of a huge season, the organization has made some “enhancements” that will enable a greater realization of the music. She referenced the performance of Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird.” The music was originally scored for a production by Ballet Russe in the early 20th century. While still staying true to the original intents of the composition, the orchestra will share the stage with some choreographed dancing. Multiple performances this year will see the orchestra sharing the stage with dancing, puppetry or other visual material.

Another program includes the fully staged, yet rarely performed, rendition of Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du soldat” (The Soldier’s Tale). Although some of these enhancements may prove distracting or strange for the regular classical concert-goer, those who rarely attend the concerts may find a stimulus and interest that isn’t as obvious with the music alone.

According to Margaret Dredge, symphony artistic administrator, “This is really the first season that we [Utah Symphony and Opera] are working completely together on programming and production.” Last year, the programs for both groups were decided prior to the merger. This season will reveal how the new ideas will crystallize and create larger audience appeal while still attracting the traditional attendees.

The true test of the organization is how well the current and potential audiences receive the diverse programming. “I have been involved in symphonies in the West, East Coast and Midwest, and I have noticed that the Utah Symphony concerts attract a pretty diverse audience,” Dredge said. This season’s programming should continue to capitalize upon the diverse audience found at Abravanel Hall and elsewhere.

Although there have been some concerns as to who wields the power over programming in the organization, Dredge says that Keith Lockhart still has complete say over the programming for the symphony. But the added elements of such programs stem from a bilateral effort on the part of the administration and artistic directors.

From Stravinsky to Beethoven and Berlioz to Bernstein, this season provides a great mix of classic and modern sounds, performed with and without the new features.

To kick off the season, famed violinist Joshua Bell will make his third Salt Lake City appearance playing Max Bruch’s virtuoso Violin Concerto No. 1. Playing to sold-out crowds while appeasing the highly snobbish classical music critics, Bell has proved to be an up-and-coming young star in solo performance. This concert opens the season Friday, Sept. 12 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 13 at 8 p.m.

Goethe’s “Faust” appears as a running theme throughout the season. Both the symphony and opera will play their roles in portraying Dr. Faustus and his counterpart Mephistopheles. The beginning of the Faust Festival is Hector Berlioz’s “La Damnation de Faust.” Joining forces with the Utah Symphony Chorus and featuring mezzo-soprano Molly Fillmore, tenor Raul Melo and bass-baritone Stephen Morschek, the symphony will attempt to take the audience into the demented world of Berlioz and Faust and hopefully allow us to escape such mind-altering music. This will take place on Nov. 7 and 8 at 8 p.m.

The opera will perform Charles-François Gounod’s “Faust,” another significant work done in homage to the literary monolith. It will open Oct. 18 and run through Oct. 26. “Faust” is a great introduction to the world of opera. All performances are at Capitol Theater.

The Utah Symphony and Opera has made great efforts to bring a concert series to the University of Utah. The Connoisseur Chamber Series will start its second season at Libby Gardner Hall with “L’Histoire du soldat” and Bela Bartók’s “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste.” Further engagements include the premiere of local violinist and composer Gerald Elias’s “Concerto Grosso in B-flat for Violin.” The performance will take place Jan. 15.

Although this is just a brief sampling, the season as a whole proves to be one for all interests. It will offer a new option to the regular alternatives that fill your life. And it won’t hurt the starving student’s wallet. Student tickets for the Utah Symphony are $8 and student tickets for the Utah Opera are $10. Not bad, compared to prices for badly made films or worse-sounding bands.

So, go and be somebody. And if it the music turns out to be boring tunes for deep-pocketed senior citizens, then at least you tried. But from the way this season looks, it will be the youthful rock-loving generation that will find the greatest enjoyment at Abravanel Hall and Capitol Theater this year.

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