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Four seasons, 'four human seasons' at the Utah Symphony

Published November 6, 2013 9:15 am

Music • A second Nielsen symphony and a Vivaldi favorite.
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Four is the lucky number for Thierry Fischer this week. In his fourth appearance with the orchestra this season, the Utah Symphony music director will conduct Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" and Carl Nielsen's Symphony No. 2, nicknamed "The Four Temperaments."

"I like symbols," said Fischer, who described "The Four Temperaments" as "the four human seasons."

"Nielsen was extremely interested in psychology," Fischer said. The composer generally eschewed a narrative program for his works, "but this was stronger than he could help." Each movement describes one of four classic personality types: choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic and sanguine. Fischer said he would compare the third movement to "the most beautiful movements Brahms or Dvorak wrote — there is a lot of suffering you can feel." He suspects that it's also the movement in which the composer reveals his own character.

Carl Nielsen might not be a household name in 21st-century America, but Vivaldi and his "Four Seasons" — a set of four violin concertos — certainly are.

"For the audience, it's really fascinating to experience different sides of the orchestra," Fischer said. "The Four Seasons" features a chamber-size orchestra; "The Four Temperaments" a "massive" one. The soloist in the Vivaldi concertos is Nicola Benedetti, a 26-year-old Scottish violinist whose honors include BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2004. "She's a huge name in Britain," Fischer said.

Partly because of the concertos' extreme popularity, Fischer didn't want a middle-aged soloist who had played them dozens of times. "I wanted a fresh approach to contrast with the more philosophical Nielsen," he said.

"I reckon I've managed to keep them relatively fresh in my mind and ear," Benedetti said of the concertos, which she began performing as a set just a few years ago. She can't choose a favorite "season," because each one has its distinctive charms, from the barking dog in "Spring" to the chattering teeth in "Winter."

"It's unusual for me, but I really see the scenarios, characters and stories with these pieces," she said.

Most music gives her an overall sense of place (as in the Finnish landscapes depicted by Sibelius) or personality (as in the works of Beethoven). But "The Four Seasons" is so descriptive and detailed, the soloist sees herself as "more of an actor than anything."

The work is "not profound in that it's necessarily deep or dark," she said. "But in many ways it is profound. The invention of them, and the level of creativity, to my mind, make it one of the masterpieces of the past few centuries." —


Thierry Fischer will lead the Utah Symphony in Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" and Carl Nielsen's Symphony No. 2 ("The Four Temperaments"). Violinist Nicola Benedetti is the soloist.

Where • Weber State University Browning Center, Ogden.

When • Thursday, Nov. 7, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets • $16-$36 at http://www.symphonyballet.org

Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City.

When • Friday and Saturday, Nov. 8-9, 8 p.m.

Tickets • $29-$55 ($5 more on concert day) at http://www.utahsymphony.org