Utah classical 2012: Beethoven rocks, MoTabs go viral, opera takes on Steinbeck's 'Men
Musicians with Utah connections made it big on YouTube this year (including, in a slightly belated splash, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir). Meanwhile, the Utah Symphony got a box-office boost from Beethoven.
Lucrative Ludwig • Thierry Fischer's seasonlong Beethoven project, in which he led the Utah Symphony in all nine of the composer's symphonies, got most of the credit for a 23 percent rise in ticket revenues for the orchestra. The number of tickets sold last season was the highest in a decade. Utah Symphony | Utah Opera CEO Melia Tourangeau was cautiously optimistic. "It's always going to be a struggle," she told The Tribune in May. "We're not out of the woods."
Beyond Beethoven (and this season's Mendelssohn symphony cycle), Fischer finally took on another composer beloved by Utah Symphony audiences: Gustav Mahler. His interpretation of the composer's Symphony No. 4 earned rhapsodic reviews; his presentation of a movement from Mahler's Symphony No. 10 was similarly well-received. The conductor further boosted his cred with players and listeners by conducting short chamber symphonies of Arnold Schoenberg and John Adams on the NOVA Chamber Music Series (for which he donated his fee) and kicked in the money to hire extra musicians for a season-ending performance of Richard Strauss' "Alpensymphonie."
Other highlights in Abravanel Hall this year included superstar pianist Lang Lang's solo recital in October and Hilary Hahn's spectacular November performance of the Korngold Violin Concerto.
Bieber beware • The Mormon Tabernacle Choir launched a YouTube channel in October. What, you assumed the choir was on YouTube already? It seems that thousands of videos of the choir on the popular site were unauthorized. Now that Utah's most famous singing group has secured the necessary digital distribution licenses for the music on its channel, the choir has attracted nearly 15,000 subscribers to its videos (135 and counting) of past concert performances, favorite hymns and full episodes of "Music and the Spoken Word." The channel is closing in on 750,000 video views perhaps it's only a matter of time before the MoTabs fulfill singer Alex BoyÃ©'s prediction of "more hits than Justin Bieber." First, though, the choir will have to catch The Piano Guys, whose clever, well-produced cello-and-piano productions continue to gain popularity, and former Utahn Lindsey Stirling, who made YouTube's Top 10 list of viral videos with her dubstep violin.
The group also welcomed a new president. Ron Jarrett became the first former Tabernacle Choir singer to head up the self-supporting choir's business operations when he replaced "Mr. Mac" Christensen in August.
Singing Steinbeck • The highlight of Utah Opera's season, and one of the finest productions in the company's history, was "Of Mice and Men." The company's May staging of the Carlisle Floyd opera, based on the John Steinbeck novella, was expertly directed and beautifully sung. From the unforgettable performances of Matthew Burns and Corey Bix as the iconic George Milton and Lennie Small to the adorable shelter pup who played Lennie's ill-fated dog, every aspect of this production was top-notch.
Bowing out • Terence Kern, hailed as "one of the most expert ballet conductors in America" by New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay in 2010, moved to emeritus status this spring after conducting the Utah Chamber Orchestra, which accompanies Ballet West, for 28 years. A search for his successor is ongoing.