Utah Symphony | Utah Opera will hitch its Cultural Festival to state’s Golden Spike 150th-anniversary celebrations

(Mingzhao Zhou | courtesy photo) Composer Zhou Tian will write a new orchestral work inspired by the Transcontinental Railroad, and commissioned by the Utah Symphony.

Utah Symphony | Utah Opera is adding its music and voices to next spring’s 150th-anniversary celebration of the Golden Spike, building the organization’s annual Cultural Festival around the theme of the Transcontinental Railroad.

The festival will be tied to Utah’s Spike 150 celebrations, marking the sesquicentennial of the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869, uniting the West and East coasts.

In an announcement Wednesday, USUO said the orchestra’s part of the festival will be its May 17 and 18 performances at Salt Lake City’s Abravanel Hall, which will include the previously announced world premiere of a commissioned work written by Chinese-born American composer Zhou Tian.

Zhou, 37, was nominated for a Grammy last year for best contemporary classical composition for his Concerto for Orchestra, commissioned for the Cincinnati Symphony.

The Golden Spike work is co-commissioned by Utah Symphony | Utah Opera, the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra, Omaha Symphony, the Michigan State University Symphony, Arapahoe Philharmonic, Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera, Evanston Symphony, Central Wisconsin Symphony and the Boise Philharmonic.

Utah Symphony music director Thierry Fischer will conduct the piece in a program that will include Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” and “Billy the Kid.”

For its part of the Cultural Festival, Utah Opera has selected four projects for its 10-minute Commissioned Operas program, each with themes related to the Golden Spike. The operas will premiere May 20 to 22 at locations in Salt Lake City, Brigham City and Ogden. (Showtimes and locations are yet to be announced.)

The four mini-operas are:

• “Completing the Picture,” by composer Michael Ching and librettist/researcher/choreographer Victoria Panella Bourns, which chronicles the efforts by Chinese laborers who were often erased from the history of the Transcontinental Railroad.

• “The Stone, the Tree and the Bird,” by composer Jacob Lee and librettist Christine McDonough, which imagines a campfire conversation among three rail workers the night before the Golden Spike ceremony in Promontory.

• “Burial,” by composer Tony Solitro and librettist Paisley Rekdal, which shows an argument between a town mayor and a cafe owner over how to honor and bury Chinese men who died while helping build the railroad.

• “No Ladies in the Lady’s Book,” by composer Lisa Despain and librettist Rachel Peters, a comic opera about “the women whose contributions to the success of the Transcontinental Railroad are largely unsung.”

Utah Opera’s dramaturg, Omer Ben Seadia, will help the creative teams develop their mini-operas, consulting with them this month, guiding a Feb. 15 work session with the opera’s resident artists singing the roles, and acting as stage director for the productions in May.