Utah Symphony and Utah Opera will start the fall with shorter programs, smaller audiences

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Thierry Fischer, conductor and music director of the Utah Symphony, will be back leading Utah Symphony — for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down live performances — with shows Sept. 17-19, 2020, at Abravanel Hall.

The Utah Symphony and Utah Opera are planning their return to live performances this fall — but not every one of the musicians or audience members will be back at once.

The Utah Symphony will start the fall season Sept. 17-19 at Salt Lake City’s Abravanel Hall, with a Masterworks program featuring members of the string sections, Utah Symphony | Utah Opera announced Tuesday. It will be the first time since March, when the COVID-19 pandemic closed venues nationwide, that symphony musicians have performed in their home venue.

“I’m really impressed by the amount of effort here to get live music happening,” said Steven Brosvik, who is two weeks into his new job as president and CEO of Utah Symphony | Utah Opera.

The first concerts, led by conductor and music director Thierry Fischer, will be highlighted by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings,” considered an homage to the music of the Classical era.

The program also will include “Joyful Day,” a 1955 work by Nigerian composer Fela Sowande that expresses the happiness at live symphonic music returning to Utah. And the program features Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” which will be played in memory of those who have died from COVID-19. The shows will run about 70 minutes, with no intermission.

About 40 string musicians — roughly half the symphony’s full roster — will perform the first weekend of shows. The stage is being extended 12 feet into the audience, to let the musicians maintain 6 feet of social distance.

“You’re going to see an orchestra that is really spread out on stage, and filling the full amount of stage with fewer players,” Brosvik said.

The audience will be a fraction of its normal size, Brosvik said. Each show at Abravanel will be limited to about 400 audience members, in a hall with a capacity of 2,700. To make up some of the difference, the program will be performed three times, with a Thursday show added to the usual Friday and Saturday performances.

“The audience members are going to look around in the hall, and it’s going to feel a little empty,” Brosvik said.

At both Abravanel Hall and the Capitol Theatre, where Utah Opera performs, tickets will be sold with 6-foot spacing between family groups, and two empty rows for every row occupied. Audience members will be required to wear face masks throughout the performance. Ticket scanning will be contactless, and patrons will be asked to use mobile tickets, via the USUO app.

“We’re taking it very seriously for our musicians’ safety, for the audience, the crew, everyone,” Brosvik said.

The second weekend of symphony concerts, Sept. 24-26, will feature 10 string musicians performing Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, and the entire string orchestra performing Arnold Schoenberg’s “Transfigured Night.”

Each Masterworks program will also include “surprise” pieces, which will be announced from the stage.

Brosvik said the symphony will try to work the brass and woodwind players into the mix for the second week. Safety issues — such as the fact the brass and woodwind players can’t wear face masks while performing — will determine when the full symphony will take the stage, he said.

Utah Opera is modifying its season opener at the Capitol Theatre in October, Brosvik said, with 10 performances of a pair of short operas with small casts, starting Oct. 9 and running through Oct. 17.

The Capitol’s seating capacity will be limited to about 300 ticket buyers, Brosvik said.

The operas are: Francis Poulenc’s “The Human Voice,” a solo drama in which a woman has a final phone call with her former lover; and Joseph Horovitz’s comedy “Gentlemen’s Island,” an adaptation of a short story by W.S. Gilbert (of Gilbert & Sullivan fame), about two shipwrecked Englishmen whose etiquette interferes with their survival.

Two sopranos — Utah native Wendy Bryn Harmer and Utah Opera resident artist Edith Grossman — will make their Utah Opera debut taking turns on “The Human Voice.” “Gentlemen’s Island” is also double-cast, with tenor Brian Stucki and baritone Christopher Clayton alternating with resident artists Daniel O’Hearn and Brandon Bell.

The two short works replace Utah Opera’s planned production of Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” which is too large for the Capitol Theatre under social distancing rules. “We’d have to be doing it in the Vivint Arena,” Brosvik said.