BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY, The Marriage of Figaro, de Jong Concert Hall, Harris Fine Arts Center, Oct. 22; through Oct. 25, tickets at 801-422-4322 or 

Wednesday’s opening night performance of Brigham Young University’s production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro was Rebecca Pedersen’s show. The young soprano dominated the proceedings as the Countess not only with her singing but also with her regal stage presence. She brought depth to her characterization through her fine acting and vocal chops.

From left: Andrew Neumayer, Annie Powell and Rebecca Pedersen. (Photo: Courtesy BYU)

Pedersen, a senior at BYU and a recent winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, already has star qualities that come through no matter what she sings or where she sings. Her performance Wednesday, which she repeats Friday, is perhaps her best to date. She infused her portrayal with wonderfully crafted nuances both in her acting and singing. There was real pathos in her two big arias, “Porgi amor” and “Dove sono;” her emotions were heartfelt and genuine.

Beverly Thompson was also noteworthy as Susanna. Her portrayal as Figaro’s betrothed was effervescent and bright. Her singing was nicely crafted and although she started out a bit shakily her performance got stronger as the evening wore on.

As Cherubino, the love sick page to the Count, Annie Powell also improved during the performance. Her acting was top notch and she did a credible job with her two arias, “Non so più” and “Voi che sapete.”

Tyrell Wilde, in the title role, was strong and focused. His portrayal was well rounded and his singing was exceptional; and he held his own in ensembles with Pedersen.

Andrew Neumayer was commanding as the Count. He has a finely modulated and rounded voice that was well suited for his role. He, too, was quite convincing and he did a wonderful job with his major aria, “Hai già vinta la causa.”

The Wednesday cast, by and large, was well chosen. In smaller roles, Lennika Wright as Marcellina and Kevin Smith as Bartolo were a delight. They imbued their roles with wit and humor.

The chorus was also quite good, and the BYU Chamber Orchestra, despite a few hiccups, played well. Conductor Kory Katseanes’ tempos were well chosen and kept things flowing nicely and seamlessly. The sets were true to the period (late 18th century) and marvelous, and Lawrence Vincent’s staging was wonderfully conceived and executed.

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Ignat Solzhenitsyn (Photo Credit: Dario Acosta)

Russian-born pianist and conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn will make his Utah Symphony debut this weekend in both roles. He’ll be conducting the orchestra from the piano in Mozart’s Concerto No. 18 in B flat major, K. 456. Also on the program are Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 7 and Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber.

Solzhenitsyn, the son of the late Nobel Prize winning writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, has had a busy career as a pianist and conductor in the United States and throughout the world. He’s appeared with orchestras in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, Paris and Sydney, among others. And while this is his first appearance with the Utah Symphony, Solzhenitsyn has played in Salt Lake City before. In 1998 he gave a recital in Abravanel Hall, playing a program of Beethoven and Liszt.

The Utah Symphony concerts take place at 8 p.m. on Oct. 24-25 in Abravanel Hall. Tickets range from $18-$69 and can be obtained online at or by calling 801-355-2787 or 888-451-2787.

There will also be a Finishing Touches Dress Rehearsal at 10 a.m. on Oct. 24. Tickets for that cost $16 and are also available online or by phone.

Patrons 30 and under can purchase $10 tickets to any of the three performances. Ticket prices increase $5 when purchased on the day of the performance.

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The NOVA Chamber Music Series, which opens its new season Sunday, promises to stay true to its well established tradition of mixing standard repertoire with contemporary works. “Every concert is structured on a dichotomy of new and old,” said series artistic director Jason Hardink in a recent interview with Reichel Recommends. “It’s a balanced representation of truly great works of the past plus a cross representation of works by composers now alive or recently alive.”

Michael Hicks

This season, however, will be slightly different than previous ones, in that a Utah composer will be featured at all but two of the six concerts. “There’s definitely a theme running through the season,” Hardink said.

At this Sunday’s concert Michael Hicks, a member of the Brigham Young University music faculty, will be spotlighted with two works: Diode, written for husband and wife violinists Alex and Aubrey Woods, and which they premiered about two weeks ago at BYU, and the older Strategy of Looms, for string quartet.

In a phone interview Hicks discussed the story behind Diode.

“I was going to write a piece for Alex that he could play with his wife, since there aren’t many duos for two violins. I had been working on it for a month or so. I felt it was an OK piece but I wasn’t excited about it.”

While in the midst of composing, Alex Woods injured himself in a bike accident and couldn’t use his right hand. “All of a sudden I was excited about it [the piece], not because he injured himself, of course, but because of the possibilities it offered. It appealed to me because of what I’m interested in sonically.”

In Diode, Aubrey Woods plays her violin in the normal way, while her husband plucks his instrument in various ways. He also occasionally fingers his wife’s violin while she bows.

Aubrey and Alex Woods in BYU's Madsen Recital Hall

“It’s really a piece for two violins and three hands,” Hardink said. “It’s two independent voices trying to come together.”

“It’s a very serious kind of piece for two people who are very close,” Hicks said, adding that the work shows how they can adapt while one is temporarily injured. “Both Alex and Aubrey are so passionate and so attuned to the piece, they will make something fine out of it,” Hicks said.

While Diode is a brand new work, Strategy of Looms is over 20 years old, Hicks said. “It’s been performed three or four times and it’s also been recorded on my CD, Ritual Grounds.”

The work reflects the composer’s interest in textiles and fabrics. The title suggests that, Hicks said, and the work is woven in a manner that might imitate how an Oriental rug, for example, is constructed. “There are lots of melodic lines, which are woven together, then unraveled and reknitted again.” The melodies are short and terse, Hicks said, “but at the same time the work has a great deal of passion.”

And even though two decades separate the two, there are certain characteristics that connect them. “By the time I was writing Strategy of Looms I had found a certain combination of harmonic sounds that I really like and which can still be heard in Diode.”

Strategy of Looms is a very strong piece and a really nice piece, too,” Hardink said.

Celena Shafer

Rounding out the program will be Mendelssohn’s well known and popular Octet for Strings in E flat major, and seven instrumental canons, BWV 1072-1078, by J.S. Bach, as well as his joyous cantata Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, BWV 51, sung by Celena Shafer. “Celena is perfect for the Bach,” Hardink said. “She brings the kind of exuberance and agility that is just right for this work.”

Below is a listing of the complete season. Unless otherwise noted all concerts take place at 3 p.m. in Libby Gardner Concert Hall in David Gardner Hall. Tickets are $20 for general, $18 for seniors and $5 for students and can be purchased at the door or online at University of Utah students are admitted free of charge with I.D.

Also listed are the two Gallery Series concerts, on Nov. 16 and on April 19, 2015, which take place at 3 p.m. in the Art Barn Finch Lane Gallery, 1325 E. 100 South. Tickets for these concerts are $25 and can also be purchased at the door or online at the series’ website.

  • Oct. 26 – “A Celebratory Opening: Music from Leipzig and Provo.” Works by J.S. Bach, Mendelssohn and Michael Hicks.
  • Nov. 16 – Gallery Series. “Beethoven Violin Sonatas: Part III.”
  • Dec. 14 – “Russian Greats and Moldovan Musings.” Works by Rachmaninoff, Tcherepnin, Stravinsky and Igor Iachimciuc.
  • Jan. 11, 2015 – “Contemplations of the Beyond.” Music by J.S. Bach, Messiaen, as well as Gregorian Chant.
  • Feb. 3, 2015, 7:30 p.m. – “Late Beethoven and Post-Minimalism.” Music by Beethoven and Michael Gordon.
  • March 1, 2015 – “An Afternoon of Serenades.” Music by Mozart, Brahms and Morris Rosenzweig.
  • April 19, 2015  – Gallery Series. “Beethoven Violin Sonatas: Part IV.”
  • May 10, 2015 – “Terry Tempest Williams @ NOVA.” Music by Schoenberg and John Costa.
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Like so many opera aficionados Lawrence Vincent loves Mozart – in particular Le nozze di Figaro. And when Vincent, who directs the opera program at Brigham Young University, gets to stage it, he’s more than thrilled. “It’s one of my favorite operas,” he told Reichel Recommends in a phone interview.

Of course, it’s one thing for Vincent to want to do a specific opera; he also needs the voices – and Figaro calls for a large cast of leads. But he’s been lucky in that area. The last time he mounted a production of Figaro, back in 2007, he had soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen in the program. She went on to win the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2010 and has been making waves ever since on the global opera scene. “Rachel sang the Countess in our production,” Vincent said. “This December she’ll be making her Met debut in the same role.”

This time, Vincent has Rebecca Pedersen in the same role. Pedersen is another Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions winner who is poised to make a name for herself internationally. “Rebecca is so young and so amazing,” Vincent said.

He’s fortunate to be able to work with such strong young talent, since the opera department only accepts a few auditioners each year into the program. The ones who get selected are the cream of the crop. “My single most difficult problem is picking who gets in,” he said. “We have a hundred who audition, but only 10 are chosen.”

Once they’re in Vincent said it’s important to nurture their talent and develop it while allowing the program at the same time to be a valuable educational tool. “We have to serve them well. The main thing we have to do is teach students the vocal craft.”

It’s for that reason Vincent doesn’t modernize the settings of the operas he stages. “I want them to see how it is. It’s important to be true to the time and character of the operas.”

Vincent, who had a successful career as a professional opera singer in Europe before returning to the United States and becoming a member of the BYU school of music, said Mozart is extremely difficult to sing well. “As a singer you are so exposed, because the orchestral writing is so transparent. But if you’re in shape nothing is more rewarding.”

The opera will be sung in Italian with English supertitles. Some arias, mainly in Act IV, and some sections in the other three acts have been eliminated to keep the production from being overly long. “Three hours is a long time in this context, that’s why I decided to make these cuts,” Vincent said.

Le nozze di Figaro opens next week with a preview on Oct. 21. After that, the opera runs from Oct. 22-25. Start time is 7:30 p.m. and all performances take place in de Jong Concert Hall in the Harris Fine Arts Building.

Singing on Oct. 22 and 24 are: Rebecca Pederson, Andrew Neumayer, Tyrell Wilde, Beverly Beverly Thompson, Annie Powell, Lennika Wright, Isaac Carlin, Ben Bird, Anna Romney and Dalan Guthrie.

For the Oct. 21, 23 and 25 performances the cast is as follows: Elisabeth Coleman, Jordan Reynolds, Ben Kramer, Paige Peterson, Elise Read, Dru Daniels, Cameron Mayo, Wayd Odle, Katie Armantrout and Jared Wells.

The performances on Oct. 24-25 will also be streamed live at

  • What: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro
  • Venue: de Jong Concert Hall, Harris Fine Arts Center, Brigham Young University
  • Time and Date: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 21 (preview), 22-25
  • Tickets: $10 (preview), $18 general, $14 weeknights for students with I.D., $15 weekends for students with I.D., $16 weeknights for seniors and BYU alumni, $17 weekends for seniors and BYU alumni
  • Phone: 801-422-4322
  • Web:
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Among J.S. Bach’s numerous offspring were several sons who achieved considerable fame as composers while they were still alive. However, there was one son who never experienced success in his lifetime. That unfortunate soul was P.D.Q. Bach, the least known of old Bach’s many children, whose music was neglected until Peter Schickele began unearthing it in the mid-20thcentury.

Peter Schickele

What Schickele discovered in his research was a composer who left a vast body of work at the time of his death. And although he was immensely prolific and wrote in all genres he never really found his own voice, unlike his famous father. Most scholars consider P.D.Q. Bach a phony and accuse him of outright plagiarism, but these allegations have never deterred Schickele from making sure the obscure composer found his rightful place, although on a lower pedestal than his siblings, in the Bach family hall of fame.

P.D.Q. Bach, who, of course, is Schickele’s alter ego, will be the featured composer at Utopia Early Music’s season opener this Saturday and Sunday. Titled “My Bonny Lass She Smelleth: P.D.Q. Bach and More Saucy Songs of the 17th Century,” the concert will include selections from Bach’s The Short-Tempered Clavier and The Art of the Ground Round, along with legitimate, albeit naughty, songs from Elizabethan England, as well as 17th century drinking songs.

Emily Nelson

“We did a concert similar to this one a few years ago, which was a lot of fun,” said Utopia co-founder Emily Nelson. “We thought it was time to incorporate P.D.Q. into the mix.”

Fellow Utopia co-founder Christopher LeCluyse, who has sung some of P.D.Q.’s music in the past, said it’s not easy parodying other composers’ styles. “P.D.Q.’s music is so clever,” LeCluyse said. “You have to be a really good composer to make fun of others’ music.”

Nelson concurred. “The voice leading is good, and it’s really beautiful. You have to be twice as smart [as a composer] to do comedy.”

P.D.Q. Bach’s The Art of the Ground Round (a twist on dad’s The Art of the Fugue) is a set of rounds, also called catches. A round is a multi-part vocal piece that takes a theme and passes it around the various voices. “These pieces were very popular,” LeCluyse said. “There were many groups in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries called catch clubs where members would meet to sing these pieces. Most of them are written in three-part counterpoint and most of them are drinking songs.” He added that scores of these ditties were published in collections. “A lot were collected by Henry Purcell and other composers.” A famous, and large, collection from the early 18th century is called Pills to Purge Melancholy. “The style is much like The Beggar’s Opera, which was written around the same time,” LeCluyse said. “Some of the pieces in the collection are send ups of popular songs of the time. People were riffing back then, too.”

Christopher LeCluyse

In addition to drinking songs and P.D.Q. Bach, there will also be a newer musical spoof on the program. Harpsichordist Pamela Palmer Jones will play Giovanni Dettori’s Lady Gaga Fugue, based on the pop diva’s song Bad Romance.

“The entire program is something you’d expect from Weird Al,” Nelson said.

Joining Nelson, who is a soprano, and LeCluyse, who sings tenor, will be singers Gretchen Windt, mezzo-soprano, Geoffrey Friedley, tenor and Ricky Parkinson, bass. Also performing will be Lisa Chaufty on recorder and flauto traverso.

The concerts take place Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 19 at 5 p.m. in the Cathedral Church of St. Marks (231 E. 100 South). Admission is by freewill donations; suggested amounts are $15 for general and $10 for students.

Below is a schedule of concert dates and programs. For more information log on to

  • Oct. 18, 8 p.m. and Oct. 19, 5 p.m., Cathedral Church of St. Marks (231 E. 100 South) – “My Bonny Lass She Smelleth: P.D.Q. Bach and More Saucy Songs of the 17th Century.” Program: Selections from P.D.Q. Bach’s The Short-Tempered Clavier and The Art of the Ground Round; naughty songs from Elizabethan England; and drinking songs from the 17th century. Performers: Emily Nelson, soprano; Gretchen Windt, mezzo-soprano; Christopher LeCluyse and Geoffrey Friedley, tenor; Ricky Parkinson, bass; Pamela Palmer Jones, harpsichord; and Lisa Chaufty, recorder and flauto traverso. (Freewill admission; suggested: $15 general, $10 students.)
  • Dec. 6, 8 p.m. and Dec. 7, 5 p.m., Cathedral Church of St. Marks – “A Celtic Christmas.” Program: Christmas music from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man and Brittany. Performers: Emily Nelson, soprano; Gretchen Windt, mezzo-soprano; Christopher LeCluyse, tenor; Michael Chipman, baritone; Bronwen Beecher, fiddle; Eleanor Christman Cox, baroque cello; and Therese Honey, Celtic harp. (Freewill admission; suggested: $15 general, $10 students.)
  • Feb. 23, 2015, 8 p.m., Vieve Gore Concert Hall (Westminster College) – “The Dance of Love: Romantic Songs from Machaut to Brahms.” Program: Music will include renaissance galliards; medieval dances; selections from Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes; and selections from Schubert’s part songs. Performers: Emily Nelson, soprano; Aubrey Adams-McMillan, mezzo-soprano; Christopher LeCluyse, tenor; Michael Chipman, baritone; and David Walker, lute. ($15 general, free for students with I.D.)
  • May 9, 2015, 8 p.m. and May 10, 2015, 5 p.m., Cathedral Church of St. Marks – “Poignant Pleasures: Music of the French Baroque.” Program: Music by Marais, Charpentier, Campra and their contemporaries. Performers: Emily Nelson, soprano; Christopher LeCluyse, tenor; Alex Woods and Audrey Woods, violin; John Lenti, theorbo; and Eleanor Christman Cox, baroque cello. (Freewill admission; suggested: $15 general, $10 students.) 
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FAINA LUSHTAK, PIANO, Jeanné Wagner Theatre, Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, Oct. 10

There are many elements that go into creating a true artist of the piano – sensitive interpretative skills, equal amounts of musicality and technique, passion, and an uncanny ability to bring the music to life and mesmerize the listener.

Faina Lushtak

Faina Lushtak is one such pianist who has it all. She is a marvelous interpreter who creates poetry at the keyboard, and her emotional involvement in the music she plays transfixes her audience.

And there is no better pianist than Lushtak to inaugurate the Paul Pollei Commemorative Piano Concert Series, the newly renamed recital series that honors the late founder of the Gina Bachauer competition.

The program Lushtak chose to play Friday was a wonderful journey from Mozart to Prokofiev, with a few pieces she wrote along for the ride. And Lushtak showed she is a remarkable interpreter of this wide ranging repertoire, playing everything with an ease and naturalness that comes from a deep understanding and affection for the music.

The first half opened with a glorious account of Mozart’s delightful Sonata in G major, K. 283, with its playful outer movements and touchingly poignant Andante. She played the work with cleanly defined phrases, delicately crafted lyricism and a transparency that underscored the sunny nature of the music.

That transparency was also abundantly evident in the work that followed: Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood, the composer’s wistful look back to lost youth. Lushtak’s playing was beautifully textured and captured the joyfulness expressed in the short character pieces comprising the work. Particularly striking was her account of Träumerei, the best known piece in the set. She played it with a tenderness that underscored the smooth mellowness of the music.

Lushtak rounded out the first half with two pieces by Liszt: the Waldesrauschen and the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 11. She gave an evocative reading of the first piece that captured the imagery of rustling trees in a forest, while her interpretation of the latter was full of fiery passion.

The Russian-born pianist turned to her countrymen after intermission.

She opened the second half of the program with Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 3 in A minor, a lushly romantic work that clearly shows where the composer’s musical origins are. Lushtak played it with bold lines and large gestures that captured the dramatic sweep of the work. But she also tempered her playing with well crafted expressiveness that gave even the loudest and technically demanding passages well defined lyricism.

She followed this up with four movements from Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons, a delightful set of short piano pieces describing each month of the year. Lushtak gave a wonderfully lucid and vibrant account of April, August, October and December. Infused with the lyricism that is Tchaikovsky’s trademark, these miniatures are gems of the piano repertoire and deserve to be played more frequently.

Lushtak closed her recital with three of her own works, Sonatina, Five Preludes and Old and New, that gave an insightful look into her compositional world, a world that embraces jazz idioms, virtuosity and an underlying lyricism. There are hints of Prokofiev and other Russians in the music, but everything is written in a manner that is distinctly her own and not imitative.

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Brady Allred and the Salt Lake Choral Artists will be performing an all-Bernstein concert this weekend. On the program are three works: the Chichester Psalms, a concert arrangement of Mass and the Missa Brevis.

The Chichester Psalms is a setting of psalms from the Hebrew bible; its focal point is a poignant setting of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

Bernstein was commissioned to write Mass for the opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in 1971. In its original form, it was a theater piece for “singers, players and dancers.” Recently a concert version of the work was published. “This version is a compilation of the best 30 minutes of the work,” Allred told Reichel Recommends.

Missa Brevis was Bernstein’s last completed work, written in the year before his death in 1990. It was written in honor of Robert Shaw when he retired as music director of the Atlanta Symphony. Shaw premiered and recorded the work with the Atlanta Symphony Chorus.

Joining Allred and the choir will be countertenor Miles Romney and tenor Tyler Nelson.

The performances take place Oct. 10-11 at 7:30 p.m. in St. Ambrose Church, 1975 S. 2300 East. Tickets are $20 for general and $10 for students and available at

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Utah Opera is bringing back Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly in a new production that features Yunah Lee in the title role. It opens Oct. 11 in the Capitol Theatre and runs through Oct. 19.

Yunah Lee

The story is a tragedy of epic proportions; from the start one realizes that it can’t end well for any of the principals. The libretto is based on a novella by John Luther Long which was dramatized by David Belasco. Cio-Cio San, also known as Butterfly, is a beautiful young geisha who falls in love with Lt. Pinkerton, a dashing American naval officer. He, in turn, is fascinated by this exotic beauty. They quickly marry but unfortunately for Cio-Cio San, Pinkerton has no intention of spending the rest of his life with her. When he is called back the United States, he promises he will return to her. When he finally does come back, after three years, he brings his new American wife with him. Cio-Cio San presents Pinkerton with his son, who was born during his absence. Pinkerton and his wife convince Cio-Cio San to let them have the child and raise him in America. Cio-Cio San, long shunned by her family, realizes she has no future and commits suicide.

Portraying Pinkerton in this production is Eric Fennell, who readily admitted that no one has any sympathy for Pinkerton. “Only his mother loves him,” he said, but also added, “he’s not really a bad guy.”

The problem with Pinkerton, Fennell went on the explain, is that his time in Japan is a journey of discovery. The young lieutenant is naïve and doesn’t know anything about other cultures. “He’s extremely ignorant and he doesn’t know how much he is influencing the situation.”

Eric Fennell

Cio-Cio San is easy to understand for Lee, because of their common Asian background, she said, adding that she has an affinity for her character. “I understand the culture and I like her. She’s my best friend.” Lee said it’s not difficult to understand that Pinkerton is captivated with Cio-Cio San, because “she is attractive and adorable.” But she is also “very strong  and strong on faith.”

Lee has sung Cio-Cio San over 125 times, and as far as Fennell is concerned, she is today’s foremost interpreter of the role. “She is in the prime of her career right now, and this is her best role,” he said. “Yunah is the best Butterfly in the world today. It’s fortunate it worked out with her schedule. Salt Lake City audiences will be in for a real treat.”

Conductor Robert Tweten is impressed with the singers. “This is an incredible cast. Yunah has done a hundred plus performances. You don’t have to teach her anything.”

“Yunah is wonderful. She’s teaching me,” joked stage director Garnett Bruce. That’s quite a compliment, because Bruce is no newcomer to Madame Butterfly; he’s directed 16 productions of the work. “This is a cast of colleagues,” Bruce added. “They make the whole process easier.”

“They feed off each other, and they bring a greater level of energy to the rehearsals,” Tweten said.

This will be the second time that Lee and Fennell have appeared together in Madame Butterfly. “The first time was in 2009 for Opera Saratoga,” Fennell said. But neither he nor Lee are expecting this production to be anything like the one they did five years ago. “You have to try and forget what you did, and react to a new cast,” Lee said. “You can’t recreate the same thing. It’s impossible.” And that’s one way to  help keep their interpretations fresh.

This is a new production with new outfits designed and made in Utah Opera’s costume shop. Bruce was involved in the design and color choices of the kimonos the female Japanese characters wear. “I wanted brighter and more vivid colors with flowers to create the illusion of a flower garden,” Bruce said. “The colors are very strong and not typical of traditional kimonos. I wanted to push the envelope a bit since we live in a Technicolor world.”

Tweten said that Madame Butterfly is one of the best operas to see for anyone not familiar with opera. “It’s a great piece to introduce audiences to opera.”

  • What: Utah Opera, Madame Butterfly
  • Venue: Capitol Theatre
  • Time and Date: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 11, 13, 15 and 17; 2 p.m. Oct. 19
  • Tickets: $18-$95 ($5 higher when purchased on day of performance); $20 rush tickets available on day of performance for anyone 30 and under
  • Phone: 801-355-2787 or 888-451-2787
  • Web:
  • ALSO: Opera Prelude Lecture by Utah Opera principal coach Carol Anderson, in the back of the orchestra seating level in the Capitol Theatre, one hour prior to each performance, free for ticket holders.
  • ALSO: Q&A Session with Utah Opera artistic director Christopher McBeth, at the front of the orchestra seating level in the Capitol Theatre, immediately following each performance, free for ticket holders.
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There have been a few musicians who have left a lasting legacy on Utah’s cultural scene.

Paul Pollei

One remarkable artist who left his mark in Utah is Paul Pollei, founder and director of the Gina Bachauer Piano Competition. From its humble beginnings at Brigham Young University in 1976, Pollei elevated it to where it now is one of the foremost competitions in the United States, if not the world.

“Paul had a passion for what he did,” said Bachauer executive director Kary Billings. “He was in high demand as a teacher and educator and through his work and dedication he touched everyone.”

Pollei passed away last year and to honor his memory the Gina Bachauer Foundation decided to name its recital series after him. “It was the right thing to do,” said Billings, who started studying piano with Pollei when he was 12 years old. “We had to honor Paul’s legacy.”

The artists at this year’s series all have some connection to Pollei. The first pianist to appear, Faina Lushtak, had known Pollei for years. “When Paul met her he encouraged her to enter the competition,” Billings said. She didn’t win gold but the competition was the start of a lifelong friendship with Pollei. “She has been a judge in many Bachauer competitions over the years,” Billings said. “She is a wonderful teacher [at Tulane University in New Orleans] and a great composer.”

Faina Lushtak

In fact, when Lushtak competed she played some of her own compositions. “When I heard that I thought to myself, ‘Can you do that?’ And, of course, you can,” Billings said. In the following years, several participants have played their own works as part of their Bachauer competition repertoire.

Lushtak will be in Salt Lake City on Oct. 10, playing a wide ranging program of  works from Mozart to Prokofiev; and she has included some of her own pieces as well. “This is a beautiful program,” Billings said. “There is great variety of pieces and it’s all very intimate.”

On the program are a couple of works that aren’t played in recital very often. One of them is Prokofiev’s Third Sonata. Known for his demanding piano music, the Third is small in scope and much more inviting than some of his other sonatas, Billings said.

Another infrequently played work is Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons. “When you think of Tchaikovsky you think of his symphonies and concertos and ballet music. The Seasons is a delightful work.” Lushtak will play “April,” “August,” “October” and “December.” “In ‘December’ you get hints of The Nutcracker.”

Billings described Lushtak’s playing as bold but also expressive. “She is Russian-born and trained so her approach is, of course, Russian. There’s great beauty in her playing but also great intensity.” He also said that the program should appeal to everyone. “This is a family concert. There is a big focus on youth.”

The next recital after Lushtak’s takes place in February 2015 and features Michael Gurt, the gold medalist at the 1982 Bachauer competition. “He was the first gold medalist after the competition moved to Salt Lake City from Provo,” Billings said. “He’s played here many times. He is a powerful player who brings a lot of passion to his performances.”

In March 2015, Andrey Gugnin returns to Salt Lake City in his first appearance after winning the gold medal at last year’s competition.

Rounding out the series in May will be the American Piano Quartet, a group that Pollei formed when he was teaching at BYU. “It was Paul who rediscovered this medium,” Billings said. “He scoured libraries all over searching for music for piano quartet [two pianos eight hands]. He single handedly revitalized this repertoire.”

Below is the series’ schedule. All recitals take place at 7:30 p.m. in the Jeanné Wagner Theatre in the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $20 for general, $15 for seniors and $8 for students. A series pass costs $60. Tickets can be purchased by calling 801-355-2787 or 888-451-2787 or by logging on to

  • Oct. 10 – Faina Lushtak; program includes works by Mozart, Schumann, Liszt, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Lushtak.
  • Feb. 13, 2015 – Michael Gurt, 1982 Bachauer gold medalist.
  • March 13, 2015 – Andrey Gugnin, 2014 Bachauer gold medalist.
  • May 8, 2015 – American Piano Quartet.
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BRENTANO STRING QUARTET, Libby Gardner Concert Hall, Oct. 6

Last night the Brentano String Quartet presented a wonderfully varied program of Mozart’s HuntQuartet, K. 458, Bartók’s Third and Elgar’s E minor, op. 83. Their performance was immaculately groomed, the result of years of painstaking collaboration. Unfortunately, though, they lacked the very humanity with which the music they so expertly played is fully imbued: the open joy of Mozart, the wild passion of Bartók, the restless pathos of Elgar. Grim and somber throughout, the Brentano had about as much cheer as a Mayan sacrifice.

Brentano String Quartet (Photo Credit: Peter Schaaf)

And here’s where the dichotomy between a CD and a live performance comes into play. When a musician, literally, grits his teeth, and whose facial tension was almost painful to watch (first violinist Mark Steinberg); stares antagonistically at the music (violist Misha Amory); or almost perpetually shakes her head “no, no, no” with an accompanying scowl (cellist Nina Lee) it tends to dry up the perception of any reservoir of positive feeling they, or the audience, have about the music. An occasional, smiling “yes, yes, yes” would have been a welcome relief.

That’s not to say musicians should be something that they’re not and put on an act. Playing any classical music, let alone string quartets, requires a level of concentration that makes brain surgery seem like a weekend hobby. There’s no room to play pretend. Yet, there’s no getting around the fact that part of a live-concert experience is visual. We see how the performers feel about their mission, and you can’t totally divorce that from what you hear. That’s one of the reasons live concerts are irreplaceable. And if music is ultimately subjective, if the goal for the performing musician is to move the listener, to enrich the listener’s life experience, then the simulation of elation in the minuet of the Hunt, for example, is not enough. A simulation, no matter how practiced or how polished, is not the real thing. I think the audience sensed that, and responded accordingly.

Despite the Brentano’s immaculate intonation, flawless ensemble playing and sweet, willowy tone, there was a troubling divergence of approach to sound production among the individual musicians. Each had markedly different bow technique, and the result was telling. For example, in the last movement of the Elgar a short phrase was passed with rhythmic precision from one musician to the other – viola, second violin, first violin, cello – yet each played it with a mystifyingly different sound, fragmenting what should have been a unified line. Furthermore, Steinberg played excessively at the weakest part of the bow (the point), and much of what he played up there, especially quicker passages, was all but lost to the listener. There’s something to be said for lightness in Mozart, but sometimes you just have to address the string at the lower half of the bow and press the damn thing down. Second violinist Serena Canin, when she had the opportunity to play out, for instance in the second movement of the Elgar, had an expressively rich sound, but far too often had to sublimate her better instincts when trying to balance with Steinberg. Amory’s viola sound, by far the most focused and projecting, was intensely convincing, especially in the Elgar and Bartók, which is ironic as he is the only one whose instrument faced away from the audience. Lee’s visual dramatizations did not translate well into the aural realm. Her sound lacked depth and clarity of articulation. (I sat in the third row and even there I had to crane to hear the beginnings of notes.) And those Stephen King cello glissandos near the climax of the Bartók Third, which should raise the hair on the back of one’s neck, elevated nary a hackle.

For a string quartet, the upside of two decades of meticulous work is the ability to realize an almost unimaginable level of cohesion among four different human beings, and there’s no guarantee a quartet will get there, ever. The Brentano has achieved it in spades, for example, in the inner voice interplay between Canin and Amory, which was a pleasure to behold. The pitfall in such long-term collaborations, as one might guess, is that in the drive to attain so much polish the performance becomes antiseptic. How does a group maintain spontaneity after playing the same thing for decades? How does it avoid sounding like a series of well-rehearsed sections, rather than an integrated whole? It’s a never-ending, challenging paradox, and one that any performing ensemble, including the Brentano, must consider. I missed the fresh, unbounded optimism in the Mozart. The visceral, latent danger in the Bartók (where was the “pop” in the patented Bartók pizzicato?). That Thomas Hardy sense of ghostly presence permeating the Elgar.

After the concert I went home and watched a 40-year-old video of James Brown sing and dance on the Soul Train television show. Maybe the classical music concert hall is not ready for that level of raw, unrestrained passion, but on the other hand, it might not hurt.

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Mercedes Smith

Mercedes Smith, the Utah Symphony’s principal flute, will play a benefit recital this week for local flutist Carson Tueller who recently suffered a spinal cord injury. The recital is sponsored by the Utah Flute Association.

The program includes works by C.P.E. Bach, Hindemith, Arthur Foote and Prokofiev. Tueller will join Smith for the Flower Duet from Delibes’ opera Lakmé.

Accompanying will be pianist Karlyn Bond.

The recital takes place Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m. in Dumke Recital Hall in David Gardner Hall. Tickets can be purchased at the door and are $5 for UFA members, $10 for non UFA members and $7 for seniors and students.

Carson Tueller

Donations will also be accepted at the recital to help send Tueller to the Paralympics. Along with being an accomplished flutist, he is also a competitive swimmer. More information on the young musician/athlete can be found at Carson Tueller Recovery Updates.

The following day, Smith will hold a free master class at 9:30 a.m. in Dumke Recital Hall in David Gardner Hall.

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The Brentano Quartet, a frequent visitor to Utah and one of today’s most in demand ensembles, will be returning to the Beehive State next week for concerts in Salt Lake City and Logan.

On the program for both concerts will be Mozart’s Quartet in B flat major, K. 458, Hunt, and Bartók’s Quartet No 3.

Brentano Quartet

“Mozart didn’t give the quartet its nickname, but with its opening theme that reminds you of a hunting horn it’s easy to see why it’s called the Hunt,” said the Brentano’s violist, Misha Amory, in a phone interview with Reichel Recommends.

The work is also one of the brightest and most optimistic among Mozart’s string quartets, Amory added. “It’s a sunny, joyous romp that just glows at you.” That’s something that distinguishes it from the other five quartets that make up the so called Haydn Quartets – the set of six quartets Mozart dedicated to the older composer. “In the other five Mozart shows off what he can do. There is a lot of complexity in them. But the Hunt is simple, innocent, naïve and transparent. It’s just a lovely work.”

It will be paired with Bartók’s Third Quartet in the first half. “It’s possibly my favorite of his six quartets,” Amory said. “It has all the Bartók ingredients. It crackles with electricity, and there is a strong folk element, especially in the faster sections. There is an abstract feeling of loneliness, too, the same feeling you find in his Concerto for Orchestra.” The work is in one movement and is the shortest of the six, making it very compact and concise. “That adds to its intensity,” Amory said.

The Third is also the first quartet in which Bartók is his own master. “He’s no longer experimenting and trying to find his own voice. It’s a wonderful piece.”
For its Salt Lake concert, the program will conclude with Elgar’s relatively unknown Quartet in E minor. Amory said it’s been in the Brentano’s repertoire for a few years, and the reaction has been pretty much the same wherever they’ve played it. “Venue after venue we’ve had presenters tell us, ‘This is the first time we’ve had it here.’”

Written at the end of Word War I, the quartet is from the same period as Elgar’s Cello Concerto. “[The quartet] is a very beautiful, romantic, evocative work,” Amory said. “It’s wistful and melancholy with a touch of sadness to it. It’s very much like Elgar’s other works from the period.”

Amory said that after this season they will retire the work from their repertoire. “We’ve played it a bunch, especially last season. We’re going to replace it with Elgar’s more popular Piano Quintet starting next season.”

In Logan, the foursome will switch out the Elgar for a better known work: Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet, a work Amory called “apocalyptic.”

Even though the Brentano is one of today’s busiest quartets, it still finds the time to be involved in teaching and coaching young up and coming quartets. This fall the group joined the faculty at the Yale School of Music after 15 years in residence at Princeton University. For Amory, who was an undergraduate at Yale, the move was like a homecoming. “It’s cool,” he said. “I graduated from Yale 25 years ago. The place has changed, but there are some teachers I knew who are still there.”

Amory said the Brentano’s residency at Princeton was “wonderful,” but he’s looking forward to new challenges at a school he knows so well. “It’s fun to come back to the place.”

  • What: Brentano Quartet
  • Venue: Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah
  • Time and Date: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6
  • Tickets: $30 general, $10 students with I.D.
  • Phone: 801-467-2181
  • Web:
  • ALSO: Pre-concert lecture by U. music theorist Michael Chikinda, Room 270, David Gardner Hall, 6:45 p.m., free.


  • What: Brentano Quartet
  • Venue: Performance Hall, Utah State University
  • Time and Date: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7
  • Tickets: $24 general, $10 students with I.D.
  • Phone: 435-797-8022
  • Web:
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