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Artist-in-Association Hilary Hahn To Perform Two Works With Utah Symphony

Two concertos are accompanied by U.S. premiere of Arlene Sierra's Nature Symphony, inspired by butterflies, bees, and more.

Artist-in-Association Hilary Hahn To Perform Two Works With Utah Symphony

On April 8 and 9, Hilary Hahn, one of the greatest violin virtuosos of our time, returns to the Utah Symphony for a second visit this concert season as Artist-in-Association-this time performing works by Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera and Spanish composer Pablo Sarasate. The performances take place at Abravanel Hall, conducted by Music Director Thierry Fischer.

Ginastera, Argentina's most famous composer, wrote his strikingly original Violin Concerto in 1969. Diverting far from the typical three-movement concerto format, the work opens with nearly five minutes of unaccompanied cadenza-which Hahn is sure to luxuriate in. Following are six variations spun off of the cadenza, each exploring a different musical element or violin technique, as well as exploring different orchestral sonorities. The instrumentation varies wildly from movement to movement, sometimes using the full forces of a large orchestra (including no fewer than seven percussionists!) and in one movement, reducing the orchestra to a chamber ensemble. (The concerto was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and the chamber-orchestra movement was designed as an opportunity to show off the orchestra's principal players; Time magazine reported following the premiere that the musicians admired the work so much that they leapt to their feet and shouted "Bravo" at the conclusion.) The final movement was inspired by the 24th Caprice of Paganini, and like that notoriously difficult work, this concerto is ferociously challenging to play and not often attempted by violinists.

Sarasate's Carmen Fantasy is also considered one of the most technically difficult works for violin, though much more compact at approximately 12 minutes. A violinist himself, Sarasate loved to convert operas into concert pieces, and his reimagining of Bizet's Carmen-including the famous "Habanera"-is the most famous and enduring of the lot. Sarasate, as a performer, preferred showing off lighthearted and entertaining works, and this is reflected in his composition, which is a thoroughly entertaining showpiece of dazzling feats from the soloist.

Composer Arlene Sierra, raised in Miami and currently based in London, has had her music performed in concert halls and opera houses worldwide. Sierra is the Utah Symphony's 2021-22 Artist-in-Association, with three of her works performed by the orchestra this season-including the U.S. premiere of Nature Symphony on this program. Commissioned by the BBC Philharmonic and BBC Radio 3 in 2017, it is part of a series of Sierra's works related to the natural world; earlier works include Urban Birds, Colmena, and Butterflies Remember a Mountain. As with those earlier works, Sierra's purpose with Nature Symphony is to examine the "mechanics and processes of nature" and draw attention to environmental change, rather than creating "a simple reflection or meditation" on nature. She explains, "It's a personal sense of urgency, as opposed to trying to put my walk in the woods into a piece of music."

The first movement, "Butterflies Remember a Mountain"(which builds on her piano trio of the same title) took inspiration from the monarch butterfly's migration cycle-for millions of years, approximately one billion monarchs have arrived to the same location in Mexico to complete their annual journey from Canada. The middle movement, "The Black Place (after O'Keefe)" is based on Georgia O'Keefe's paintings of a stretch of black hills in New Mexico, the Bisti Badlands, which are under threat of fracking. "Bee Rebellion" concludes the work with its buzzing orchestral textures and sudden outbursts, depicting how an orderly society of bees can collapse into chaos. Sierra's training as a dancer translates into rhythmically driven music, which the Manchester Review praised as "arresting, captivating, and very mesmeric."

The concerts open with Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, a work that is more an exploration of the supernatural than the natural. This sensuous dreamscape is a musical impression of Stéphane Mallarmé's poem Afternoon of a Faun, in which a mythical creature revels in desires, dreams and memories of forest nymphs. With its sinuous flute solo-one of the most famous flute passages in the repertoire-and its phrases that swell, wander freely, and blend into one another, this work represents a turning point in music history, often considered the beginning of modern music. Its ambiguous tonality and shifting meters create a feeling of existing somewhere between sleep and consciousness. Mallarmé, at first opposed to Debussy representing his poetry with music, wrote to the composer that the work "presents a dissonance with my text only by going much further, really, into nostalgia and into light with finesse, with sensuality, with richness."

The U.S. premiere of Nature Symphony continues Utah Symphony | Utah Opera's ongoing commitment to presenting music with connections to our natural world, as well as its dedication to giving voice to new art; Utah Symphony commissioned and will give the world premiere of Sierra's Bird Symphony the following weekend, April 15 and 16. As the symphony's 2021-22 Composer-in-Association, Sierra will be in Utah for the full two weeks, engaging with students and the wider community in a variety of activities-among these, she will work with the Utah Youth Philharmonic, Utah Youth Symphony, and Lyceum Philharmonic on a youth orchestra piece she has created based on Bird Symphony.

Artist-in-Association Hilary Hahn will be in residence for one week, with activities including virtual visits to Whitehorse High School in Montezuma Creek (which serves a largely Navajo student-body) and Valley High School in Orderville, for performances and discussions about the process of making artistic choices; a visit with refugee students at the International Charter School (students and their families, teachers and staff, and case workers are also invited to attend either of Hahn's two concerts free of charge); a masterclass with transgender string musicians at Under the Umbrella Bookstore, which is free and open to the public on April 7 at 6 PM; and much more.

For additional insights into the music and artists on the April 8 and 9 concerts, audiences are invited to join Vice President of Artistic Planning Robert Neu for a pre-concert chat in the First Tier Room of Abravanel Hall, 45 minutes before the concert begins (6:45 PM for the 7:30 PM concert on Friday, April 8; and 4:45 PM for the 5:30 PM concert on Saturday, April 9).

For tickets and more information, click here.

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