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Ballet orchestra features a rare all-female section

Published April 17, 2014 5:08 pm

Music • Female guest conductor and three female trumpet players in Ballet West's "Rite of Spring."
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Ballet West's "The Rite of Spring" is notable for resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte's sophisticated dance movements, but there's also something interesting going on in the orchestra pit.

Utah Chamber Orchestra features a female guest conductor, Tara Simoncic, a trumpet player, as well as an all-female trumpet section.

"That can't be said for many orchestras," said Adam Sklute, Ballet West's artistic director. "More importantly, 'Rite of Spring' requires a strong and dynamic hand at the podium, and a strong brass section, and these women are giving it that."

For this performance, which ends today, the section features Lisa Verzella, Sara Marchetti and Seretta Hart, who is sitting in for orchestra member Bob Brown, called away for a family illness.

"I do think Salt Lake City is a little bit unique in the amount of female trumpet players," said Hart, a substitute player for the ballet orchestra and the Utah Symphony. "I don't know if there's any good reason for it — we're just lucky."

The brass players say they appreciate Simoncic's rare understanding of their part, as well as having a woman in such a prominent position. "Female conductors no longer attract open-mouthed attention among music lovers or the news media, yet they remain far from being fairly represented," wrote Zachary Woolfe in a New York Times story in December. "According to the League of American Orchestras, of the 103 ensembles with the biggest budgets, 12 have female conductors; just one of the top-tier 22 is led by a woman."

Simoncic comes to the podium well prepared.

"I haven't had many conductors who are trumpet players," says Marchetti, who works during the day as the brass coach at West Valley City's American Preparatory Academy. "Her musicality is outstanding. And she likes us, so that makes it easy."

As Hart says: When the conductor is trained on your instrument, "they have a certain understanding of the work that you're doing in the back of the orchestra."

"In general, we appreciate the feminine camaraderie," says Hart, who grew up in the South, but came to Utah to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees at Brigham Young University and the University of Utah. "We tend to listen and appreciate each other's sounds and try to blend. I don't know if it's necessarily that much different than playing with men."

Verzella has been playing the trumpet for 37 years, playing with Ballet West's Utah Chamber Orchestra for 17. She says the number of female trumpet players in the classical world is growing — she took to the instrument following the notes of her older brother — but it's still unusual to play in an all-female section.

Nothing against her male colleagues, of course. "I don't know what the difference is" about playing with women, says Verzella, who works a day job as a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. "I find our section very easy to work with. People are willing to trade parts around. There's less ego, for lack of a better word. It might have something to do with being women."

Or maybe not.


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Ballet West's 'The Rite of Spring'

When • Continues Friday-Saturday, April 18-19, 7:30 p.m.; 2 p.m. matinee Saturday, April 19.

Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $24-$74; ArtTix.org