Utah Symphony reaches out to Latinos, unearths a Utah-inspired masterwork, and celebrates two big birthdays in its 2019-20 season

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Symphony principal cellist Rainer Eudeikis, who also performs with the Fremont String Quartet, plays in the Hansen Dome Theatre of the Clark Planetarium, Feb. 5, 2019, during a sneak preview of the Utah Symphony's 2019-20 season.

After 10 years at the baton of the Utah Symphony, conductor and musical director Thierry Fischer says he’s home. “I feel I’m from here now,” Fischer, who is Swiss, said this week. “I realized how much I love the state.”

So in preparing programs for the Utah Symphony’s 2019-20 season, announced Tuesday at an event in Salt Lake City, Fischer is using as the season’s backbone a Utah-inspired work by the late French composer Olivier Messiaen. The work, “Des Canyons aux étoiles… (From the Canyons to the Stars…),” premiered in 1974, commissioned by New York arts patron Alice Tully ahead of the U.S. bicentennial in 1976.

“I always wondered: Why is this piece never performed in Utah?" Fischer said, in advance of Tuesday’s announcement. “If one symphony should symbolically own the piece in America, it’s the Utah Symphony. Because it’s written in Utah. … [Messiaen] was camping in the national parks in Utah for three months, recording the birds, writing them down, developing into this incredibly strong arc.”

It’s not performed often, Fischer said, because it’s not considered by many classical music lovers to be contemporary (Messiaen died in 1992). Also, it’s long; its 12 movements, played in one sitting, clock in at over 90 minutes.

To solve that problem, Fischer and the symphony got permission from Messiaen’s estate to break up the piece into its 12 movements. Four of the season’s Masterworks Series concerts will include a movement, and four more will feature two movements each. The music will be accompanied by images of the Utah natural wonders, such as Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park, that inspired Messiaen.

The Messiaen work “was the starting point for our focus on Utah, and also our focus on the natural world,” said Paul Meecham, president and CEO of Utah Symphony | Utah Opera.

Other works planned for the season — such as Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Pastoral” symphony, and Richard Strauss’ “An Alpine Symphony” — suggest natural beauty, complementing the Utah landscapes, Meecham said.

The new season also is showcasing works by composers from Central and South America, with two programs led by a guest conductor, Mexico’s Carlos Miguel Prieto.

One show, “¡Celebración Sinfónica!” on Sept. 16, will include works by Mexican composers José Pablo Moncayo and Carlos Chávez. And Prieto will conduct again on Nov. 8 and 9, in a program that places “Sensemayá,” an orchestral piece by Mexico’s Silvestre Revueltas, alongside the more familiar Rachmaninoff third piano concerto.

“There are great composers from [the Americas]. They just haven’t had the champions,” Meecham said.

“For me, the criteria is the beauty, whether it is known or not,” Fischer said. “If it’s known, OK, it’s a piece of cake for the audience. If it’s not known, then it’s our responsibility to make it known.”

The symphony has been working to reach out to Utah’s Latino population, and adding Hispanic composers and conductors is “a very big effort,” said David Utrilla, CEO of Salt Lake City-based US Translation Company, and a member of USUO’s board of trustees.

“The ability to see a composer or conductor [who is Hispanic] sets a good example to the community,” Utrilla said. “It says, ‘There are people like us who are conducting this beautiful music.’”

Utrilla also points to the season’s first music-and-film event, a screening of the Disney/Pixar hit “Coco” with live musical accompaniment, set for Nov. 1 and 2 — to coincide with Dia de Muertos, the Day of the Dead, the Mexican holiday celebrated in the film.

“[‘Coco’] was a big Hollywood hit,” Utrilla said. “That’s not just good among Hispanics, but good for everybody.”

Two other celebrations are prominent in the symphony’s 2019-20 season. The year 2020 marks the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven, and the symphony will perform four of his nine symphonies between February and May.

“His nine symphonies are something like the pyramids in Egypt,” Fischer said. “He was a revolutionary for the time. He broke the sense of quote-unquote ‘nice’ music. He was more violent, more rough, more dreamy, more extreme. He also had a more spiritual way of writing music. … And it still speaks to us today.”

The other big birthday — to be celebrated on May 16, 2020 — is for the Utah Symphony itself, marking 80 years since its founding. For the celebration concert, the symphony is bringing in one of the biggest names in classical music: violinist Joshua Bell.

The anniversary, Fischer said, is a good way “to see where we’re coming from…, to see where we are, and from there — to always put things in perspective — where are we going. … And to celebrate together. It’s a moment of shared joy.”

All concerts listed take place at Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City.

Subscription renewals, purchases and a full list of events are available online at utahsymphony.org, or by calling (801) 533-6683 or by visiting the Abravanel Hall Ticket Office, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City. Single tickets for select concerts will be available starting June 14. (Tickets for Disney’s “Coco” in concert go on sale May 19.)

Current season subscribers have until March 28 to renew or request seat changes for the 2019-20 season before they are released to new subscribers and subscribers requesting seat changes.


Sept. 13-14, 2019 • Holst’s “The Planets” (Masterworks Series) • Thierry Fischer, conductor; Barlow Bradford, chorus director; sopranos and altos of the Utah Symphony Chorus • Program: Beethoven: “The Consecration of the House Overture” (marking 40th anniversary of Abravanel Hall); Kaija Saariaho: “Asteroid 4179 – Toutatis”; Haydn: “The World of the Moon” Overture; Messiaen: “What is Written in the Stars” from “Des canyons aux étoiles”; John Williams: “Star Wars” (Main Title); Messiaen: “The Desert” from “Des canyons aux étoiles”; Holst: “The Planets.”

Sept. 16, 2019 • “¡Celebración Sinfónica!” (Special Event) • Carlos Miguel Prieto, conductor • Program includes: Moncayo: “Huapango”; Chávez “Sinfonía india”; and more.

Sept. 20-21, 2019 • “The Music of John Williams” (Entertainment Series) • Jack Everly, conductor • Program of John Williams film scores; details to be announced.

Sept. 24, 2019 • 60th Anniversary Salute to Youth (Special Event) • Conner Gray Covington, conductor; winning soloists from the Salute to Youth Competition • Performances by Utah’s most up-and-coming musicians.

Sept. 27-28, 2019 • Respighi’s “Pines of Rome” (Masterworks Series) • Thierry Fischer, conductor; Viviane Hagner, violin; Brant Bayless, viola • Program: Mozart: Overture from “Idomeneo” and Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola; Respighi: “The Birds”; Messiaen: “The Orioles” from “Des canyons aux étoiles”; Resphigi: “Pines of Rome.”

Oct. 25-26, 2019 • Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Masterworks Series) • Aziz Shokhakimov, conductor; Lukáš Vondráček, piano. • Program: Mussorgksy/Rimsky-Korsakov: “Night on Bald Mountain”; Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini; Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5.

Nov. 1-2, 2019 • “Coco” Film in Concert (Special Event) • Conner Gray Covington, conductor • Program: Michael Giacchino: Score of “Coco,” in live accompaniment to the film.

Nov. 8-9, 2019 • Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (Masterworks Series) • Carlos Miguel Prieto, conductor; Kirstin Chávez, mezzo-soprano; Boris Giltburg, piano • Program: Revueltas: “Sensemayá”; Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3; Falla: “El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat).”

Nov. 15, 2019 • “Rhapsody in Blue” (Masterworks Series) • Thierry Fischer, conductor; Kevin Cole, piano • Program: Andrew Norman, “Sacred Geometry”; Gershwin: Second Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra, “I Got Rhythm” Variations for Piano and Orchestra, “Cuban Overture” and “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Nov. 16, 2019 • Gershwin Unwound (Unwound Series) • Thierry Fischer, conductor; Kevin Cole, piano • Gershwin: “Rhapsody in Blue”; and more.

Nov. 22-23, 2019 • “The Rite of Spring” (Masterworks Series) • Thierry Fischer, conductor; Till Fellner, piano (Mozart); Jason Hardink, piano (Messiaen) • Program: Haydn: Symphony No. 10; Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20; Messiaen: “The White-Browed Robin-Chat” from “Des canyons aux étoiles”; Stravinsky: “The Rite of Spring.”

Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 2019 • “Messiah” Sing-In (Special Event) • Conner Gray Covington, conductor • Program: Handel: “Messiah,” with the audience providing the vocals.

Dec. 6-7, 2019 • A Broadway Christmas with Ashley Brown (Entertainment Series) • Michael Krajewski, conductor; Ashley Brown, vocalist; Choristers from The Madeleine Choir School • Program of holiday and Broadway favorites; details to be announced.

Dec. 7, 2019 • “Here Comes Santa Claus!” (Family Series) • Conner Gray Covington, conductor • Holiday favorites for all ages, and a visit from a certain red-suited jolly man.

Dec. 13-14, 2019 • “A Celebration of Christmas” (Masterworks Series) • Thierry Fischer, conductor; Barlow Bradford, conductor; Utah Chamber Artists; University of Utah Chamber Choir; University of Utah A Cappella Choir • Program: Rossini: Overture to “The Thieving Magpie”; Bernstein: Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story”; Barber: “Die Natali (Christmastide),” Chorale Preludes for Christmas; Barlow Bradford (arranger): “Sing We Now of Christmas”; Christopher Bradford: “Carol of the Bells”; Barlow Bradford (arranger): “The First Noel” and “Ding Dong! Merrily on High”; Christopher Barlow: “A Christmas Lullaby” and (arranger) “Pat-a-pan”; Barlow Bradford: “Let Us All Be Merry.”

Jan. 3-4, 2020 • Debussy’s “La mer” (Masterworks Series) • Conner Gray Covington, conductor; Kathryn Eberle, violin • Program: Beethoven: “Leonore” Overture No. 3; Edgar Meyer: Violin Concerto; Arlene Sierra: “Moler”; Debussy: “La Mer.”

Jan. 10-11, 2020 • Isabel Leonard sings Mozart (Masterworks Series) • Bernard Labadie, conductor; Isabel Leonard, mezzo-soprano • Program: Mozart: Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro,” "Non so più" from “The Marriage of Figaro,” "Voi che sapete" from “The Marriage of Figaro,” "Deh per questo istante" from “La clemenza di Tito,” “La clemenza di Tito” Overture, and “Exsultate, jubilate”; Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 “Italian.”

Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 2020 • Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto (Masterworks Series) • Thierry Fischer, conductor; Karen Gomyo, violin • Program: Andrew Norman, “Spiral”; Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto; R. Strauss: “An Alpine Symphony.”

Feb. 7-8, 2020 • Fischer Conducts Gershwin & Dvořák (Masterworks Series) • Thierry Fischer, conductor; Joyce Yang, piano • Program: Bernstein: Three Dance Episodes from “On the Town”; Gershwin: Piano Concerto in F; Dvořák: Symphony No. 8.

Feb. 14-15, 2020 • “Women Rock!” (Entertainment Series) • Sarah Hicks, conductor; Cassidy Catanzaro, vocalist; Katrina Rose, vocalist; Shayna Steele, vocalist • Program of songs by women rock stars (Carole King, Holly Knight, Tina Turner, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Pat Benatar, Minnie Riperton, Heart, and more), details to be announced.

Feb. 21-22, 2020 • Beethoven 2020: Symphony No. 7 (Masterworks Series) • Thierry Fischer, conductor; Francesco Piemontesi, piano • Program: Messiaen: “Bryce Canyon and the Red-Orange Rocks” from “Des canyons aux étoiles”; R. Schumann: Piano Concerto; Messiaen: “Cedar Breaks and the Gift of Awe” from “Des canyons aux étoiles”; Beethoven: Symphony No. 7.

Feb. 28-29, 2020 • “Singin’ in the Rain” Film in Concert (Entertainment Series) • Conner Gray Covington, conductor • Program: Nacio Herb Brown: Score of “Singin’ in the Rain,” in live accompaniment to the film.

March 6-7, 2020 • “Sketches of Spain” (Masterworks Series) • Fabien Gabel, conductor; Benjamin Beilman, violin • Program: Andrew Norman: “Unstuck”; Lalo: Symphonie espagnole; Ravel: Rhapsodie espagnole; Aubert: “Habanera”; Debussy: “Ibéria” from “Images pour orchestre.”

March 21, 2020 • “Carnival of the Animals” with Children Dance Theatre (Family Series) • Conner Gray Covington, conductor; dancers from Children’s Dance Theatre • Program: Saint-Saëns: “Carnival of the Animals.”

March 27, 2020 • “Carmina Burana” (Masterworks Series) • Kazuki Yamada, conductor; Madeline Adkins, violin; Amy Owens, soprano; Brian Stucki, tenor; Christopher Clayton, baritone; Barlow Bradford, chorus director; Utah Symphony Chorus; Choristers of The Madeleine Choir School • Program: Nathan Lincoln de Cusatis: “The Maze” (World Premiere, commissioned by Madeline Adkins); Vaughan Williams: “The Lark Ascending”; Orff: “Carmina Burana.”

March 28, 2020 • “Carmina Burana” Unwound (Unwound Series) • Kazuki Yamada, conductor; Madeline Adkins, violin; Amy Owens, soprano; Brian Stucki, tenor; Christopher Clayton, baritone; Barlow Bradford, chorus director; Utah Symphony Chorus; Choristers of The Madeleine Choir School • Program includes: Orff: “Carmina Burana,” and more.

April 10-11, 2020 • Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 (Masterworks Series) • Thierry Fischer, conductor; Nicholas Angelich, piano • Program: Wagner: Prelude to Act III from “Lohengrin”; Mahler: “Totenfeier, A Symphonic Poem”; Messiaen: “Interstellar Call” from “Des canyons aux étoiles”; Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2.

April 17-18, 2020 • The Temptations with the Utah Symphony (Entertainment Series) • Conner Gray Covington, conductor; The Temptations, guest artist • Program: An evening with the Motown legends, with such songs as “I Can’t Help Myself,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “Reach Out (I’ll Be There),” “My Girl” and more.

April 24-25, 2020 • Beethoven 2020: “Pastoral” Symphony (Masterworks Series) • Thierry Fischer, conductor; Paul Jacobs, organ; Jason Hardink, piano (Messiaen) • Handel: Organ Concerto No. 13 “The Cuckoo and the Nightingale”; Barber: Toccata Festiva for Organ and Orchestra; Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral”; Messiaen: “The Mockingbird” from “Des canyons aux étoiles.”

May 1-2, 2020 • Beethoven 2020: Symphony No. 5 (Masterworks Series) • Thierry Fischer, conductor; Augustin Hadelich, violin • Program: Messiaen: “The Wood Thrush” from “Des canyons aux étoiles”; Beethoven: Romance No. 1 for Violin; Messiaen: “Omao, Leiothrix, Elepaio, Shama” from “Des canyons aux étoiles”; Duttilleux: “The Tree of Dreams”; Beethoven: Symphony No. 5.

May 16, 2020 • 80th Anniversary Gala with Joshua Bell (Special Event) • Conner Gray Covington, conductor; Joshua Bell, violin • Program: Smetana: “Moldau” from “Ma Vlast”; Strauss Jr.: “Emperor” Waltzes; Beethoven: Violin Concerto.

May 22-23, 2020 • Beethoven 2020: “Eroica” (Masterworks Series) • Thierry Fischer, conductor • Program: Messiaen: “The Resurrected and the Song of the Star Aldebaran” from “Des canyons aux étoiles”; Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 “Eroica”; Messiaen: “Zion Park and the Celestial City” from “Des canyons aux étoiles”; Ravel: “Daphnis et Chloé,” Suite No. 2.