Utah Symphony Adds New Music to the Classical Repertoire

Utah Audiences Will Be the First to Hear Three New Works with Premieres Set for Early 2024

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH (January 11, 2024)—The Utah Symphony is set to mesmerize audiences with a series of captivating premiere performances that underscore the state’s deep appreciation for the arts while also highlighting the orchestra’s international reputation. By co-commissioning and performing groundbreaking new works by present-day living composers, the symphony enriches the local cultural scene and demonstrates its commitment to fostering artistic innovation.

Beginning the New Year with new music, the Utah Symphony has the honor of performing the world premiere of the first Piano Concerto composed by British piano legend Sir Stephen Hough on January 12 and 13, conducted by Sir Donald Runnicles (who is also making his Utah Symphony debut). The concerts will take place on Friday and Saturday, January 12 and 13, at Abravanel Hall in downtown Salt Lake City. The program also includes Elgar’s Cockaigne (In London Town) and Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 5.

Named by The Economist as one of Twenty Living Polymaths, Sir Stephen Hough combines a distinguished career as pianist, composer, and writer. He was the first classical performer to be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the New Year Honors in 2014, and was awarded a Knighthood for Services to Music in the Queen’s Birthday Honors in 2022. He has performed extensively in recital and with most of the world’s major orchestras, and his catalog of over 60 albums has garnered four Grammy nominations, eight Gramophone Awards and France’s Diapason d’Or de l’Année.

As such, Hough is known world-wide as a piano virtuoso, and the debut of his first concerto is highly anticipated among the classical music community. In fact, some piano enthusiasts are planning to travel cross-country to experience the performance! Salt Lake City was chosen for the premiere, in part, due to Hough’s longtime collaboration with the Utah Symphony, dating back 20 years. This will mark his seventh performance with the orchestra.

Speaking of the Utah Symphony and the incredible relationship spanning two-decade, Stephen Hough said, “[Utah Symphony] is a wonderful orchestra. So, I just felt that, in a way, there were no restrictions. If you’re writing for an amateur orchestra, or various other ensembles, maybe you’re thinking “I better not do that” or “that’ll be too difficult” etc. But, of course, with an orchestra like this, there’s none of that at all.”

It is rare to witness a classical musician perform a work they composed themselves. While musicians are often left to interpret what a composer may have intended, Hough will know exactly what feelings to express and images to evoke as he plays the notes that he wrote.

Regarding his composition, Hough said, “…there are these two themes, let’s call one the ‘American Theme’ and the second, the ‘Austrian Theme’. The ‘American Theme’ sounds a little bit like Copland with open skies, a vast prairie expanse, just a feeling of openness. And then the ‘Austrian Theme’ comes in with a waltz…and it’s very decadent. It’s rich, like a piece of chocolate cake! And audiences will be able to hear these themes in different forms as the tonality changes slightly.”

His aim in composing this work for solo piano and orchestra was to transport audiences to pre-war Vienna. “I liked the instant suggestion of nostalgia with its evocation of a musical past of intense romance,” Hough explains in describing the concerto, which he aptly gave the subtitle The World of Yesterday. (The concert itself is cheekily named Stephen Hough Performs Stephen Hough.)

The second world premiere of 2024 will present the Utah Symphony’s own Principal Trombone Mark Davidson as soloist in the first-ever performance of Quinn Mason’s Trombone Concerto. This concerto was written specifically for Davidson and will premiere on February 16 and 17 alongside Strauss’ thrilling Don Juan.

“Quinn Mason is such a prominent composer,” says Davidson. “[His composition] has such a sonar, singing quality to it and Quinn is making that a priority to bring that out in the instrument.” For those who more commonly equate the trombone with marching band or jazz music, it will be eye-opening (and ear-opening!) To discover the lyrical qualities the instrument can produce.

The final premiere of the Utah Symphony’s 2023-24 season features Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 on February 23 and 24. Swiss composer Michael Jarrell’s Émergences-Résurgences—which was inspired by Impressionist art—will receive its U.S. premiere with Tabea Zimmermann, who many consider to be the world’s top violist.

“Engaging with contemporary music also influences interpretations of the classical repertoire,” says Zimmermann. “It makes one interpret these pieces much more consciously.”

The Utah Symphony echoes Zimmermann’s philosophy that the pairing of new music together with time-honored classics creates rich, varied concert programs that deepen the audience’s understanding of and engagement with symphonic music. And by bringing groundbreaking works like Sir Stephen Hough’s The World of Yesterday, Quinn Mason’s Trombone Concerto, and Michael Jarrell’s Émergences-Résurgences to its audiences, the Utah Symphony continues to lead in the world of classical music.

All three works being premiered over these next few months are Utah Symphony co-commissions—meaning the symphony provided the necessary funding, in conjunction with other co-commissioning ensembles, to support the composer in creating their work. In this way, the symphony is directly contributing toward the continuation of the classical music art form in our modern world.

The collaborative efforts involved in co-commissioning premieres demonstrate the Utah Symphony’s ability to forge meaningful partnerships within the internationally artistic realm, solidifying the state of Utah as a destination for artistic expression and creativity. Continuing a longtime commitment to contemporary classical music, the Utah Symphony’s three premieres during January and February offer Utah audiences the unique opportunity to be among the first to experience cutting-edge compositions and to celebrate the creation of new art.

Currently audiences can save 20% on performances—including these premiere concerts—through the end of January as part of the New Year’s Sale with the promo code CHEERS2024. This offer began Sunday, December 31 at 12 PM and runs through the end of January, while supplies last. For more information, please visit usuo.org/newyear.

For more information, please visit utahsyphony.org.