Utah Symphony Presents a Masterworks Program of Musical Tributes

Pianist George Li Returns to Utah to Perform Paganini’s Famous Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini With Conductor Ludovic Morlot

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH (September 16, 2021) – In modern popular music, “sampling” is a common technique, taking an excerpt or element of an earlier song and transforming it into something new. This idea, in fact, dates centuries back. The Utah Symphony’s upcoming O.C. Tanner Masterworks Series program offers prime examples of musical tributes—or, what could be considered sampling in symphonic music. The concerts take place September 24 and 25 at Abravanel Hall, and the public is also invited to a ticketed dress rehearsal on the morning of September 24 to witness the artistic process of refining a performance.

Pianist George Li—who first performed with Utah Symphony in 2010 at age 14 and is now building a major international career thanks to his grace and virtuosity far beyond his years—joins the orchestra for Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Pianist Andrei Korobeinikov, who was previously scheduled to appear on this concert, is unable to travel to Utah due to a pandemic-related delay in visa processing, but looks forward to joining the Utah Symphony next season.

“Salt Lake City has given me so many wonderful memories and experiences, harkening all the way back to when I was a teenager participating in the Bachauer Competition,” says Li, who later made his Masterworks debut with the Utah Symphony in 2016. “I’m so excited to be back in Utah next week to perform Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Rhapsody and to be working with Maestro Morlot once again!”

Rachmaninoff, although best known as a composer, was also one of the greatest pianists of his time, touring frequently to perform for his adoring fans. The virtuoso violinist Paganini, like Rachmaninoff, was another 19th-century equivalent of a rock star; his talent was so extraordinary that, for some time, he was the only person capable of performing the 24 Caprices he composed for solo violin.

It was the last of Paganini’s 24 Caprices that caught the attention of Rachmaninoff, who took its main theme and spun it into 24 variations for piano and orchestra—the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Rachmaninoff twists and turns the single melody into a wide variety of musical ideas, flowing from one to the next without pause and constantly keeping the listener on their toes. Under Rachmaninoff’s creative brilliance, the theme journeys into distant territory—transformed into something evoking a medieval chant in one variation, literally flipped upside-down in another, and much more. Ultimately, it arrives at the final and most playful variation with sweeping flourishes on the piano. (Read a 2017 Utah Symphony blog post about the work here.)

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a whimsical work by Paul Dukas, also draws on the influence of an earlier creation—Goethe’s poem by the same name. Today, however, it might be more likely to evoke memories of Mickey Mouse as he struggles to tame the enchanted brooms in Disney’s Fantasia. (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice replaces a previously programmed piano work by Lutosławski.)

Opening the program is the concert suite from Stravinsky’s ballet The Fairy’s Kiss, an homage to Tchaikovsky composed for the 35th anniversary of his death. The ballet’s story is based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale The Ice Maiden; Stravinsky saw a parallel between Tchaikovsky and the main character of that tale—both having been blessed at birth and then having lost their lives far too young. Stravinsky borrowed and reworked music from at least a dozen pieces by Tchaikovsky, producing a graceful musical patchwork.

“It is thrilling to be able to share this Stravinsky ballet, which is so seldom performed, and I am very happy to be meeting George Li on stage again,” says Ludovic Morlot, who will replace Utah Symphony Music Director Thierry Fischer in these concerts. Following hospitalization in August for treatment of a non-Covid related infection, Fischer remains focused on his recovery and, at the advice of his doctor, is unable to travel for performances this month. Fischer looks forward to a return to full health and to his return to Utah in January.

This will be Morlot’s highly anticipated debut with the Utah Symphony, after a planned engagement last season was canceled due to Covid-19 restrictions. “I have been looking forward tremendously to making my debut with the Utah Symphony, and am very pleased to be coming to you this month, finally!” he says. Morlot is currently Conductor Emeritus with the Seattle Symphony; during his eight years as Music Director, the orchestra earned five Grammy Awards. He is also Associate Artist at the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, and has led many of the leading orchestras in Europe and in the U.S.

Concert Listing

Ludovic Morlot Conducts Stravinsky & Rachmaninoff
Friday, September 24, 2021 / 7:30 p.m. / Abravanel Hall
Saturday, September 25, 2021 / 5:30 p.m. / Abravanel Hall
(123 W South Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah)
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Finishing Touches Rehearsal: Ludovic Morlot Conducts Stravinsky & Rachmaninoff
Friday, September 24, 2021 / 10:00 a.m. / Abravanel Hall
(123 W South Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah)
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Ludovic Morlot, conductor
George Li, piano
Utah Symphony

STRAVINSKY: The Fairy’s Kiss (Le baiser de la fée)
DUKAS The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
RACHMANINOFF: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini