Utah Symphony

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Utah Symphony (USO, USUO)
Utah symphony at Abravanel Hall.jpg
The Utah Symphony at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City
Founded 1940
Location Salt Lake City, Utah
Concert hall Abravanel Hall
Principal conductor Thierry Fischer
Website www.utahsymphony.org
Abravanel Hall, home of the Utah Symphony

The Utah Symphony is a full-time orchestra in Salt Lake City, Utah. It has become a vital presence on the American music scene through its distinctive performances worldwide and its well-known recording legacy left by former music director Maurice Abravanel. The orchestra performs in Abravanel Hall (in downtown Salt Lake City near Temple Square), which is acclaimed as one of the world's great concert halls - having won awards for both its architecture and its extraordinary acoustics.[citation needed]

In addition to performing more than 70 subscription concerts in Abravanel Hall, the Symphony travels around the Intermountain West serving communities throughout Utah. It has also performed in Wyoming, Nevada and Idaho. In April 2005, the orchestra embarked on its first European Tour in 19 years, visiting concert halls in Austria, Slovenia and Germany. During August 2014, Utah Symphony embarked upon a week-long tour to southern Utah called "The Mighty 5®", performing free, outdoor classical music concerts with the full orchestra against the stunning red rock landscape of the state's five national parks (Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion).

The orchestra accompanies the Utah Opera in four productions per year at Salt Lake's Capitol Theatre. In addition, the Utah Symphony performs numerous outdoor concerts as part of the annual six-week Deer Valley Music Festival, held each summer at Deer Valley Resort Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater and chamber concerts at St. Mary's Catholic Church, both in the Park City mountain community, the summer home of the Utah Symphony. Funding from the Utah State Legislature makes it possible for the Symphony to perform for over 55,000 students each year, both in Abravanel Hall and traveling to schools throughout the state.


The first attempt to create a symphony group in the Utah area occurred in 1892, four years before Utah achieved statehood. The Salt Lake Symphony was created and presented just one concert before disbanding. In 1902 the Salt Lake Symphony Orchestra was formed, and it remained in existence until 1911. In 1913 the Salt Lake Philharmonic was formed, and it continued until 1925.

During the Great Depression, the Federal Music Project (an employment-assistance program which formed part of Federal Project Number One, an arm of the Works Project Administration) hired Reginald Beales to create a musical group in Utah. He formed the Utah State Sinfonietta with a core of 5 members. That group grew rapidly and toured extensively, presenting concerts in all corners of the state.


By 1940 federal funding for arts projects had ceased, so local enthusiasts formed the Utah State Symphony Orchestra on April 4, 1940, with Fred E. Smith as president. They scheduled their first concert for May 8, 1940 and asked Hans Henriot to conduct it. He accepted the challenge, and the resulting concert was so successful that the group offered Henriot a contract to remain at the helm.[1] This symphony group, consisting of 52 part–time musicians, functioned until the 1960s. Its most prominent conductor was Maurice Abravanel, who built it into a full-time orchestra which gained national respect. He recorded and toured extensively with the orchestra. Under Abravanel, its Music Director from 1947 to 1979,[2] the orchestra first recorded with Vanguard Records and then with Vox Records; many of these performances, including a complete set of the symphonies of Tchaikovsky, have been reissued on CD. They also recorded works by Varese, Milhaud, Gottschalk, Honegger and Satie, as well as an early complete cycle of Mahler Symphonies. The Utah Symphony’s recordings of Mahler’s symphonies with Abravanel were the first complete cycle recorded by an American orchestra (Vanguard). Honors for Abravanel’s Mahler recordings with the orchestra include the “Mahler Medal of Honor” from the Bruckner Society of America (1965) and the International Gustav Mahler Society award for “Best Mahler Recording” (Fifth Symphony, 1975).

During Abravanel’s tenure, the Orchestra’s music education program grew into one of the most extensive arts education programs in the region. Educational concerts were given on orchestra tours across the Intermountain West and at home in the Salt Lake Valley, enriching the lives of generations of school children. These education concerts throughout the state of Utah continue to this day. The Orchestra’s season grew to a year–round schedule in 1980, and today the Orchestra’s 85 full-time professional musicians perform over 175 concerts each season.

The Utah Symphony has performed in many of the world’s most prestigious concert halls including Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Musikverein, the Konzerthaus, the Philharmonie, the Schauspielhaus, the Gewandhaus, Royal Festival Hall, the Teatro Colón, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the Brucknerhaus. In addition to numerous regional and domestic tours, it has embarked on seven international tours. During the Orchestra's 75th anniversary 2015-16 season, it will return to Carnegie Hall to present the Andrew Norman percussion commission in April 2016.

The orchestra received added luster by the appointment of Joseph Silverstein as conductor in 1983. Silverstein's experience as concertmaster of the esteemed Boston Symphony Orchestra served him well in guiding the Utah Symphony during his tenure, which lasted until 1998.

Its former music director and principal conductor was Keith Lockhart (his contract with the orchestra expired in May 2009).[3] Under Silverstein and Lockhart, the orchestra continued its commitment to the music of our time, recording and premiering a number of American works. In January 2009 the Orchestra named Gerald Steichen as its principal pops conductor.[4] In September 2009, USUO selected Thierry Fischer as the new Music Director/Principal Conductor[5] and Vladimir Kulenovic as Associate Conductor.[6] In December 2014, Rei Hotoda was appointed as the new associate conductor, starting in autumn 2015.[7]

World Premiere Commissions and Recordings[edit]

Utah Symphony Music Director Thierry Fischer and the Utah Symphony will record live performances of three world premiere commissions from American composers during the 2015 calendar year for release at a later date.

The Orchestra performed and recorded Augusta Read Thomas’ world premiere of “EOS (Goddess of the Dawn), A Ballet for Orchestra” on February 20–21, 2015 in Abravanel Hall. The two other new works to be live recorded and presented during Utah Symphony’s 2015-16 season are a percussion concerto by American composer Andrew Norman, which was performed by Colin Currie on November 6–7 (also to be presented during the Utah Symphony’s spring 2016 concert at Carnegie Hall), and a new orchestral work inspired by Utah’s National Parks by American composer Nico Muhly on December 4–5. All three works were commissioned by the Orchestra as part of the organization’s commitment to support the creation of contemporary classical music.[8]

Written in honor of Pierre Boulez, Ms. Thomas’ “EOS (Goddess of the Dawn)” musically depicts the movements of Eos as she brings forth the new day by opening the gates of heaven, welcoming the morning air and cheering on her brother, the Sun. “I like my music to have the feeling that it is organically being self-propelled - on the spot as if we listeners are overhearing a captured improvisation,” said Thomas. “‘EOS’ is a very kaleidoscopic score, with solos for many players, shifts in rhythmic syntax, shifts in harmony and harmonic rhythm, with distinct sections that have unique moods… each section of this ballet has its own aura.”

In 2014, the Koussevitzky Music Foundation committed $20,000 towards Mr. Norman’s commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) pledged an additional $10,000. Both grants supported the commission and world premiere of Norman’s percussion concerto. Mr. Muhly’s work draws inspiration from the state’s five national parks and red rock country of Southern Utah, following his visit to the region during the Orchestra’s Mighty 5® Tour in August 2014. The work will feature a video installation by interactive media designer Joshua Higgason. This will be the fifth commission and world premiere presented under the direction of Maestro Fischer, who has placed commissioning new works by contemporary composers at the core of his artistic vision. Fischer and the Utah Symphony previously commissioned a cello concerto for Jean-Guihen Queyras by Michael Jarrell, and “Ellsworth 2” by Simon Holt.

Merger with Utah Opera[edit]

In July 2002, the governing boards of Utah Symphony and Utah Opera made a precedent-setting decision to consolidate both organizations, resulting in the formation of Utah Symphony | Utah Opera. At the time of the merger, it was one of only two merged symphony and opera companies in the United States. Prior to and since that merger, both companies have shaped the artistic landscape of Utah by presenting artists and performances of exceptional scope and quality.

Summer home[edit]

The Deer Valley Music Festival (DVMF) is Utah Symphony and Utah Opera's (USUO's) summer home in the mountain resort town of Park City, Utah. Started in 2003, the Deer Valley® Music Festival provides chamber music, classical, and pops offerings in several venues during a six-week period running from July to August: the Deer Valley® Resort Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater, St. Mary’s Church, and salon events in private homes in the Park City area. The goal of the Deer Valley® Music Festival is to consistently deliver a high quality and musically diverse experience in casual settings of unparalleled natural beauty.[9]

Music Directors[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Utah Symphony – A Brief History
  2. ^ Musical Chairs, Salt Lake City Weekly, November 12, 2015 issue, p. 18, states that Abravanel began his reign in 1946.
  3. ^ Deseret News, February 1, 2009, "Symphony names Steichen principal pops conductor", p. E15
  4. ^ Deseret News, ibid.
  5. ^ Deseret News
  6. ^ Vladimir Kulenovic
  7. ^ Salt Lake Tribune
  8. ^ Broadway World
  9. ^ Deer Valley Music Festival

External links[edit]