Teasdale • Just a couple of weeks ago, Thierry Fischer was conducting the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in London’s Royal Albert Hall. Arguably, Fischer is in equally majestic surroundings this week, leading the Utah Symphony on its Mighty 5 Tour of free outdoor performances in Utah’s national parks.
"I really feel I’m in the middle of America," Fischer, who was born in Zambia and raised in Switzerland, said while preparing to go onstage Tuesday. "To imagine people living here the whole year, in the middle of the beauty here, is amazing to me."
The orchestra kicked off its Mighty 5 concert tour of Utah’s national parks with a concert in Teasdale Community Park, just outside Capitol Reef.
With » Conductor Thierry Fischer and soprano Celena Shafer
When » Reviewed Tuesday
Run time » Just less than two hours, with two intermissions and an encore
Coming up » There are three performances remaining on the tour; they’re officially sold out, but check http://utahsymphony.org/mighty5 for information on possible standby seating.
Arches and Canyonlands » Thursday, 8 p.m., Red Cliffs Lodge, Moab
Bryce Canyon » Friday, Aug. 15, 8 p.m., Ruby’s Inn, at Bryce Canyon rim
Zion » Saturday, Aug. 16, 8 p.m., O.C. Tanner Amphitheater, Springdale
Parking note » There will be free parking and shuttle service at each venue.
In addition, there will be chamber concerts and educational events inside each park throughout the week. Details at http://utahsymphony.org/mighty5.
At least 1,000 people — nearly half the population of Wayne County — turned out for the tour’s opening concert in Teasdale Community Park, about 9 miles from Capitol Reef National Park. Attendance might have been even higher if not for a sprinkling of rain that escalated to a brief but steady downpour at intermission. Even so, nearly all listeners stuck it out to the end, sheltered by ponchos, umbrellas or cowboy hats.
The crowd represented a cross section of Wayne County society, from the little girl who exclaimed, "This is the best day ever," moments before the second half began, to decorated World War II veteran Dee Hatch, 94, of Loa, who noted, "It’s wonderful to have something like this come out here to the boondocks." The preconcert atmosphere was festive, with youngsters selling treats as a fundraiser for athletes and cheerleaders at Wayne High (celebrating its centennial this year) and adults peddling art and barbecue dinners.
"It’s exciting how the community has come together," said Entrada Institute board member Annette Lamb, the local liaison between the Utah Symphony and National Park Service who helped scout locations for the concert. She was impressed that the orchestra was willing to place the Capitol Reef concert at the beginning of the tour, even though the park is geographically in the middle of the Mighty 5 parks, in deference to the Wayne County Fair schedule. Utah Symphony staffers were similarly complimentary of the professionalism and friendliness shown by the local volunteers.
Also in the audience were composer Nico Muhly and video designer Joshua Higgason, who came along on the tour as part of their research for a piece Muhly is writing for the Utah Symphony to premiere in the 2015-16 season. Muhly said the composition is still in the marination stage, but it will involve the relationship between Utah’s landscape and its people.
The concert began as the sun was starting to set on Capitol Reef and the nearby mountains, visible through the mesh screen that made up the back of the portable stage on which the orchestra sat. Fischer led the orchestra through brisk, spirited performances of Shostakovich’s Festive Overture and the first and last movements of Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony ("From the New World"). Utah soprano Celena Shafer dazzled the crowd with her effervescent performance of Johann Strauss Jr.’s "Voices of Spring," a piece she said has been on her wish list for a long time.
Far from dampening the orchestra’s spirits, the rain seemed to energize the musicians, who returned after intermission with lively, brightly colored renditions of Bizet’s Orchestral Suite from "Carmen" and Gershwin’s "An American in Paris." Shafer encouraged the soggy crowd to suspend disbelief as she evoked, respectively, a sultry summer night and a chilly Christmas Eve with the arias "Summertime" (from Gershwin’s "Porgy and Bess") and "Quando me’n vo" (from Puccini’s "La bohème"). The orchestra responded to the crowd’s enthusiastic ovation with a pair of encores: Khachaturian’s "Sabre Dance" and Sousa’s "Stars and Stripes Forever."
Ty Markham, owner of the Torrey Schoolhouse Bed and Breakfast, would welcome an encore of the Mighty 5 Tour — she credited it with a surge in business during the hot last days of summer, typically a slow time for park tourism. But it may be too early to talk about that, given the tour’s estimated $600,000 price tag (raised from a combination of private and public sources).
"You have no idea the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into this," Utah Symphony | Utah Opera president and CEO Melia Tourangeau said as she introduced Fischer and the orchestra. The conductor marveled at the dedication of crew members who must drive through the night to get the stage to each stop, where setup takes eight to 10 hours and takedown requires an additional six.
"I’m proud to be the music director of an organization that has the courage and vision to do things like this," Fischer said. "This is what art is about — not just being in the concert hall."
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