If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap.
Of course, that catchphrase popularized by Mike Myers in “Saturday Night Live” sketches is false.
But for the coming weekend, it might as well be true when it comes to the Utah Symphony’s “Scottish Symphony” night, despite the notable lack of Scots in the composition of the songs as well as inside Abravanel Hall (except for Scotland native Louise Vickerman, whose harp will be featured prominently in one of the pieces).
So we will have Japanese violinist Fumiaki Miura and Swiss conductor Thierry Fischer introduce us all to several Scottish-themed masterworks written by a Frenchman and three Germans.
Out of the four composers whose pieces will be performed, only one — Felix Mendelssohn — ever set foot in the land known for its Loch Ness monster, blood sausage and the Cocteau Twins.
As for the others:
• Max Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy” is an homage to Scottish folk melodies, though the composer never went to Scotland.
• Neither did Claude Debussy, who wrote “Scottish March” after being commissioned by Scottish General Meredith Reid to write a march based on the traditional melody of the Ross clan, of which Reid was a descendant.
• Franz Joseph Haydn spent much of his life in a remote palace in the Hungarian countryside.
But the orchestra will be in good hands, considering that Fischer has conducted the Scottish Chamber Orchestra many times, as well as serving nearby as principal conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales since 2006.
The program, Fischer said in a phone interview, was built around Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, also known as his “Scottish Symphony” because it was inspired by the ruins of the Holyrood Chapel in Edinburgh, the principal residence of the kings and queens of Scots since the 15th century. The orchestra is continuing its seasonlong Mendelssohn symphony cycle.
“For different reasons, [Mendelssohn] had to stop” composing the symphony, Fischer said. “Later he came back and finished.” Although Mendelssohn visited Scotland in 1829 when he was 20, he didn’t finish the symphony until 1842.
Because of the Scottish nature of the symphony, Fischer programmed Debussy’s “Scottish March” and Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy,” in which “the idea of Scotland is very much present.”
As for opening the performance with Haydn, Fischer said, “Haydn goes with anyone.” He continued: “It’s like an appetizer. It invigorates players.”
Miura will perform with the orchestra on Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy,” written while Bruch was conducting in England. It features spirited variations on several traditional bagpiper folk melodies, including “Through the Wood Laddie,” “The Dusty Miller,” “I’m a’ Doun for Lack o’ Johnnie,” and “Hey Tuttie Tatie.”
In a phone interview from Vienna, where he studies, the 19-year-old Miura said he will be visiting the United States for the first time when he lands at Salt Lake International Airport.
Born into a musical family — his father is a concertmaster and his sister is an acclaimed pianist — Miura picked up his instrument at age 3 when his parents gave him a toy violin. Although they wanted him to be a pianist, he was more taken with the toy and insisted on playing the violin.
In 2003 and 2004 — as an elementary student — Miura won second prizes in the All Japan Students’ Music Competition. In 2006, he was awarded the second prize at the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition for Young Violinists.
In 2008 he was admitted to the prestigious Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo, and until recently he studied there with Tsugio Tokunaga. In 2009, he moved to Vienna to study at the Vienna Conservatory, and Miura’s greatest achievement was becoming the first-prize winner of the International Joseph Joachim Violin Competition in Hanover the same year. He also won the Music Critics’ Prize and the Audience Prize of the 2009 competition, and is not only the youngest winner in the history of the competition, but also the one with the most prizes.
The only thing Miura knows about Salt Lake City is that it has “a nice basketball team,” speaking to his hobby of being a sports geek — though his dog, Johann, is named not after Johann Olav Koss, the Norwegian speed skater, but after you-know-who.
“I have never played this,” Miura said of “Scottish Fantasy.” “This is not easy, but it’s an enormously beautiful piece. I listened to it when I was younger. I was a big fan. Finally, I am able to play it.”
So it will be a great day for Miura on Nov. 30, which incidentally happens to be St. Andrew’s Day, a national holiday in Scotland.
Bittersweet ‘Scottish Symphony’
Thierry Fischer conducts the Utah Symphony and violinist Fumiaki Miura in music of Haydn, Bruch, Mendelssohn and Debussy.
When • Friday and Saturday, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 8 p.m.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $18 to $53 at ArtTix.org or 801-355-ARTS (2787); $10 single tickets are available to concertgoers ages 30 or younger; tickets $5 more on performance day
Learn more • Fischer and associate principal bassist Corbin Johnston will present a free onstage chat each night at 7.