To kick off the symphony’s 2022-2023 season — Fischer’s last as conductor and musical director — the symphony threw a gala dinner Thursday night at Maurice Abravanel Hall to give a toast to the maestro.
Fischer sat in a seat on the right side on the lower mezzanine as different groups from the orchestra took the stage to play thoughtfully chosen pieces for the maestro.
In a tweet posted Thursday morning, the Swiss-born Fischer said he’s looking forward to “an abundance of memorable musical moments” in his final season in Utah. He cited the symphony’s performance at the O.C. Tanner Amphitheater in Springdale, outside Zion National Park, last June.
At the gala, it was revealed that it was a dream of Fischer’s to perform that piece — French composer Olivier Messiaen’s Utah-inspired “Des Canyons aux Étoiles (From the Canyons to the Stars)” — in that amphitheater.
The gala consisted of a dinner in an artful tent on the lawn outside Abravanel Hall, with a tribute wall to share memories of Fischer, a concert and speech session, and swing dancing after the performance with music from principal clarinetist Tad Calcara and his New Deal Swing band.
“Thierry, this is the beginning of a victory lap, this last season of yours,” emcee Jeff Counts, the symphony’s former general manager, said in his opening remarks. “It’s not just that for you, this is also for us: Because there’s a lot of people in this room who want to find a way to say ‘thank you’ to you.”
The gala, Counts said, was the first of many opportunities to do that. Music directors, he said, are like the “mayors of small towns because they’re here with everyone else on stage.”
Counts later recounted some of Fischer’s accomplishments during his tenure in Utah: Recordings, composer catalogs, bringing French compositions to the symphony, developing relationships with guest artists, and more. Fischer also took the symphony to Carnegie Hall during its 75th anniversary season, worked with the Haitian orchestra, taught music students at schools around the state, and led events like the Mighty Five Tour, Counts said.
Augusta Read Thomas, a composer whom Fischer invited to create a piece during the COVID-19 pandemic, composed a special piece for the occasion just for him, which had its world premiere Thursday night. She commended Fischer’s ability to choose new and old works in the symphony’s repertoire.
In a video presentation, symphony board members called Fischer’s passion and energy for music “contagious” and “electric.”
Fischer will be leaving the Utah Symphony in August 2023, after extending his contract here in October 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s been splitting his time between Utah and his new job, as principal conductor of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra in Brazil.
The season starts in earnest Friday and Saturday, with concerts Friday and Saturday night at Abravanel Hall highlighted by Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 3. Stefan Dohr, principal horn for the Berlin Philharmonic, will perform the Mozart work, then team with three Utah Symphony horn players — Edmund Rollett, Stephen Proser and Jessica Danz — on the rarely performed “Konzertstück” for Four Horns by Robert Schumann.
The program will kick off with “The Star-Spangled Banner,” followed by two fast-paced works: Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” and John Adams’ “Short Ride in a Fast Machine.” After the horn works, the program concludes with Richard Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life).”
The rest of the season promises a grand line-up, including Tony winner Bernadette Peters, the Films in Concert Series and a grand finale performance of Symphony No. 3 by Gustav Mahler — one of Fischer’s favorite composers — on May 26-27, 2023.
When Fischer took the stage at the end of Thursday’s gala, he thanked the crowd for thanking him, but stressed that “absolutely nothing, out of everything we have done ... could have happened without all of you.”
“Thank you for letting me have a truly exhilarating experience in Utah, for giving me the chance to discover the beauties of this extraordinary state,” he said.
“Seeing you all tonight reassures me that you will be there after next season, and nothing could be more important to me: Realizing that everything we have done together has a future because of your support and that the story is going to continue.”
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