Utah Symphony audiences haven’t been exposed to much modern music. Past music directors have shied away from programming anything too adventurous. There have been a few exceptions, of course; the orchestra has indeed played works by Joan Tower, Olivier Messiaen and Henri Dutilleux, all significant composers. But these concerts have been few and far between.
When Thierry Fischer became the orchestra’s new music director in 2009, he brought with him a new perspective and a freshness to programming that hadn’t been seen here in decades. And he made no secret of the fact that he champions music of the 20th and 21st centuries, and that audiences can expect to hear works that are new, bold and thought provoking.
And Fischer is making good on that promise. This weekend he and the Utah Symphony will give the world premiere of Emergences (Nachlese VI) for cello and orchestra by the well known Swiss composer Michael Jarrell. The work is a co-commission by the Utah Symphony, the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg and the Orchestre National de Lyon. The project has also received support from the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia. Fischer has stated that the Jarrell piece is the first of what will be yearly commissions during his tenure at the Utah Symphony.
It was Fischer who approached Jarrell about writing a new work. “I have known Thierry for years from the Proms and elsewhere,” Jarrell said in a phone interview from his home in Geneva. “He’s done some of my works and he had the idea of having me write a new piece he could premiere.”
The title Emergences (Nachlese VI) has several connotations. The word emergences is used because the music in the opening movement of this three-movement work emerges out of nothing (silence) and builds to a tremendous climax before returning to silence, while in the slow second movement melodies and sounds develop from special effects in the cello part creating an eerie musical landscape. Nachlese (a German word that can be loosely translated as rereading something with a new perspective or reinterpreting something that’s been read before) refers in large part to the closing movement, which is a culmination of much of what had come before in the orchestra. Finally, the Roman numeral six refers to the fact that this work is the sixth in which Jarrell uses previously composed material which he brings into a different context or develops differently.
Jarrell said that the music in Emergences (Nachlese VI) is “physical.” The writing is virtuosic for both the orchestra and the cello solo in the outer movements, while the slow second movement abounds in complex and intricate special effects.
The work was written for cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras, who will be making his Utah
Symphony debut with it. He told Reichel Recommends by phone from Germany that Emergences (Nachlese VI) does indeed abound in bravura writing. “It is extremely virtuosic,” he said. “It is one of the most difficult pieces I’ve ever played.”
But he added that the virtuosity isn’t as heavy as that found in most modern cello concertos. “It’s not what Prokofiev or Shostakovich wrote,” he said. “What Jarrell writes is much more transparent and light. The writing is ethereal, never showy, and very sensuous. You can hear that Michael is French.”
Queyras knows Jarrell’s music and has played some of his works in the past. He said that he feels he is “walking on a tightrope” in this piece because his part is demanding and calls for some unusual fingering and playing. Even so, he said that his job is not to bring the audience’s attention to the challenges he faces in the piece. “It is not about showing off my virtuosic skills. Instead, I need to bring out the special poetic surroundings and the colors of the music.”
“It helps to know who I am writing for,” Jarrell said. “I have known and worked with Jean-Guihen for many years. I know what he is capable of.”
Jarrell hopes that concertgoers will come to Abravanel Hall this weekend with an open mind. “Music is a wonderful medium,” he said. “The way you hear sounds is spiritual and physical, but the public is not used to new music. With new music you have to stay open and receptive. Once you close your mind, everything is lost.”
In addition to Jarrell’s piece, Queyras will also play Gabriel Fauré’s Elégie with the Utah Symphony Chorus. The chorus will also do Fauré’s Pavane and the Cantique de Jean Racine. Rounding out the program will be Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.
What: Jean-Guihen Queyras, cello, Thierry Fischer, conductor, Utah Symphony and Chorus
Venue: Abravanel Hall
Time and Date: 8 p.m. Feb. 3-4
Tickets: $25-$75 (prices increase $5 when purchased on day of performance)
Phone: 801-355-2787 or 888-451-2787
ALSO: Finishing Touches Dress Rehearsal, Abravanel Hall, 10 a.m., Feb. 3, $15 (price increases $5 when purchased on day of performance).
ALSO: Master Class with Jean-Guihen Queyras, who will be coaching four students of the Utah Symphony cello section members, Abravanel Hall, 1-3 p.m., Feb. 4, free but registration is required, to register log on to www.utahsymphony.org (registrations will be accepted until capacity is reached or until Feb. 3, whichever comes first).
ALSO: Triumph Over Adversity, The Sound and the Fury, two documentaries on the life and music of Beethoven, Salt Lake Library Main Auditorium, 7 p.m., Feb. 1, www.usuoeducation.org.