This weekend's concerts by music director Keith Lockhart and the Utah Symphony bring together three works that put the spotlight on the orchestra. Rimsky-Korsakov's Suite from "Le Coq d'Or," Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite" and Henri Dutilleux's violin concerto, "L'arbre des songes," are tours de force that demand the utmost from each player. "This is a showcase of very interesting pieces," symphony concertmaster Ralph Matson said. Besides being compelling music, there is one other common thread. "They were all avant-garde for their time."
Matson will be the soloist in the Dutilleux. Commissioned in 1985 for the late Isaac Stern, Dutilleux' violin concerto is a lyrical work that luxuriates in orchestral colors. "This is a terrific piece," Matson said. "It's beautifully abstract, but in an interesting way. Dutilleux uses the sounds he creates, which are sometimes atonal, as a backdrop for beautiful colors." The colors sometimes reflect impressionism and occasionally jazz. "It's not jazz per se, but the colors of jazz," he explained.
It was Lockhart's idea for him to perform "L'arbre des songes." "He suggested it to me several years ago," said Matson. He is taken with Dutilleux' music and describes the concerto as "meticulously crafted."
Dutilleux' music has been played by the Utah Symphony in the past. Two years ago, guest conductor Jean-Claude Casadesus (who returns to conduct the orchestra next March) presented one of the composer's earlier works, the "5 mÚtaboles." Never a prolific composer, the 87-year-old Dutilleux is still quite active. Last year, he was in New York City at a symposium on French music. And only recently, he was commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic to write a new work, which the orchestra is scheduled to bring with it on its American tour in November.
Similar to last season's "Petrouchka," Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite" will be presented with dancers. Choreography is by Attila Ficzere from the University of Utah department of dance. Christopher Young will be Prince Ivan, Jennie Creer-King the Firebird, Shylene Charon the Princess and Gilles Maidon the Ogre.
Staging a ballet with the orchestra on stage presented a huge challenge to Ficzere. "I hardly have any kind of stage to dance on," he said. "I had tremendous difficulties with it." One obstacle was the limited danceable area. The action will take place on a platform behind the orchestra and in a small section of stage left. "The dancers have to pass from the side of the stage to the back very fast, because if they are stationary, the musicians can't see the conductor," Ficzere said.
Compounding his problems was the fact that he was only able to use the four principal characters. "So the storyline will not be the traditional storyline," he said. In Ficzere's version, the Firebird is the spirit of eternal love, who brings couples through the difficulties of life and shows them what true love is.
Ficzere confessed that when Utah Symphony & Opera CEO Anne Ewers approached him at the end of July about choreographing the suite, he was reluctant to accept. "It did not seem impossible, but I didn't know who I could use. I didn't know which dancers would be in town during the summer." Ficzere accepted the assignment, but he still had reservations. "I told Annie, 'Where am I going to dance?' And she said, 'You are so creative, you can do it.' "
Ficzere was able to get four dancers whom he knows. "Jennie is a former student here (at the U.), who danced with Ballet West and is now in Eugene, Ore. Shylene is a 16-year-old student who spent the summer at the Royal Ballet in London. She makes a beautiful young princess."
Ficzere feels that he succeeded in turning the suite into a viable ballet. "I am pleased with it," he said. "I was glad that (Lockhart is) using the 1945 version, which is not too long and has all of the best music from the original ballet in it."
Ficzere has a long history with Stravinsky's "Firebird," both in his native Hungary and here in the United States. "I danced the original 1911 Fokine version with the National Ballet in Budapest. A few years later I did a Hungarian version, and I danced another 'Firebird' in San Francisco several years after that."
Matson said that this concert is a perfect example of Lockhart's commitment to bringing imaginative programming to the symphony's audiences. "This is a very innovative program, and it shows Keith's willingness to present pieces like the Dutilleux together with great standards and great masterpieces."
If you go. . .
What: Violinist Ralph Matson with the Utah Symphony, Keith Lockhart, conductor
Where: Abravanel Hall
When: Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m.
How much: $16-$47, student rush tickets $8; $98 Family Pass and 25 percent discount for senior citizens available for Saturday's matinee
Phone: 355-2787 or 1-888-451-2787
Group discounts : 869-9016