Springdale • “Thank you. That was divine,” said one concertgoer wearing shorts to a Utah Symphony staff member while filing out of Tuesday night’s outdoor concert.
That idea of the transcendent — in nature and in music — was the theme for the kickoff concert of the Utah Symphony’s Great American Road Trip, attended by more than 1,300 people. The redrock cliffs of Springdale’s O.C. Tanner Amphitheater provided a striking backdrop as the orchestra’s music was accompanied by the flights of moths on a hot August night.
Mussorgsky’s “A Night on Bald Mountain,” Debussy’s “Clair de lune” and Dvorak’s “Song to the Moon” filled the nature-themed program. Other rousing selections included Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” Rossini’s “William Tell” Overture and Bernstein’s “Candide” Overture.
Those familiar notes were counterpointed by the floating trills of Mohican composer Brent Michael Davids. Announced by music director Thierry Fischer as an orchestral world premiere, Davids’ “Spirit Woman Song” included a solo by soprano Abigail Rethwisch, who offered a rich rendition of lyrics crafted out of American Indian “vocables,” an intertribal system of common syllables.
Davids, noted for blending American Indian and Western European classical musical styles, introduced himself as a member of the Mohican nation. He joked he was “the next to the last of the Mohicans” before playing a wood flute of his own design with the orchestra on his “Fluting Around.”
Rethwisch’s singing was beautifully clear, anchored by naturalistic acting charm, as she performed a duet with her husband, baritone Andrew Paulson, on spirited opera (“Don Giovanni”) and musical theater (“Oklahoma!”) numbers.
The sparkling silver sequins on the bodice of her black gown were a hit with my 4-year-old daughters, who were captivated by the pair’s witty “Fly Duet” from Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld.”
Putting a lot of beauty together was the inspiration for the Utah tour, Fischer said in an interview before the concert. “I’ve been here six years now, and I still cannot believe how beautiful this state is,” Fischer said before he conducted the first of three orchestra concerts on the 1,200-mile, five-day tour.
From the conducting podium, he can see in the musicians’ faces how they’re inspired by playing outside. It’s a privilege to create music in the awe-inspiring natural settings, he says, as “the landscape adds another dimension.”
Adding yet another dimension was the aim of the tour’s outreach programming, which began earlier in the day at nearby Zion National Park and included a music program for 50 students at Springdale Elementary.
Students heard a collection of nature sounds, presented by Paulmichael Maxfield, of the Natural History Museum of Utah. “Next time you go outside, I want you to be as quiet as you can and see if you can hear new sounds,” Maxfield told students who live in the kind of landscape that visitors travel from all over the world to see.
Students listened for rhythm and melody in a rooster’s crow, and dynamics and tempo in the sounds of a tree falling, under the direction of Paula Fowler and Beverly Hawkins, educators for Utah Symphony | Utah Opera. Those musical elements were underscored by a woodwind trio from the orchestra, which played several selections, including “Brush Strokes” by Brigham Young University-trained composer and oboist Alyssa Morris.
Speaking of moth flights, before the show and at intermission, educators displayed butterfly and moth collections and directed concertgoers in playing birdsong notes on large piano keyboards. Afterward, visitors were invited to star parties presented by the University of Utah’s Consortium for Dark Sky Studies and the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative.
The Utah road trip will conclude on Saturday in Vernal’s Dinosaur National Monument. Planning for this second orchestral movement began right after the conclusion of the symphony’s 2014 Mighty 5 tour of Utah’s national parks. “We remember every single moment of the last tour,” said Fischer as he began to conduct the second.
On the road
The Utah Symphony’s road trip continues in or near several Utah state or national parks and monuments.
Wednesday, Aug. 30, 6:30 p.m. • Chamber music, Cedar Breaks National Monument
Thursday, Aug. 31, 8 p.m. • Orchestra concert near Natural Bridges/Hovenweep national monuments, Bluff
Friday, Sept. 1, 2 p.m. • Chamber music, Goblin Valley State Park
Friday, Sept. 1, 7:30 p.m. • Chamber music, Vernal Brewing Co.
Saturday, Sept. 2, 8 p.m. • Orchestra concert, Split Mountain in Dinosaur National Monument, Vernal
Tickets • All concerts will be ticketed and free of charge; available at utahsymphony.org or 801-533-6683. Some walk-up tickets may be available on performance night.
Star parties • The University of Utah’s Consortium for Dark Sky Studies and the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative will partner with park rangers and local astronomers to present star parties each evening near concert sites: Wednesday, 8 p.m., Point Supreme at Cedar Breaks; Thursday, 10 p.m., Bluff Community Center; Friday, 9:30 p.m., Steinaker State Park, and 10 p.m., Observation Point parking lot at Goblin Valley State Park.