MARK O'CONNOR, UTAH SYMPHONY, Abravanel Hall, Friday.
What was it like to hear George Gershwin in concert playing his famous "Rhapsody in Blue," back when it was first composed?
We'll never know. But audiences got a taste of a similar landmark moment during Friday's Utah Symphony concert.
Fiddler/violinist Mark O'Connor joined the Utah Symphony for a performance that brought fiddle and folk music into the concert hall — in a way quite similar to Gershwin bringing jazz into the concert hall.
Friday's concert began by spotlighting the orchestra in Nelson's "Savannah River Holiday" and conductor Scott O'Neill's composition, "Dueling Orchestra." The symphony gets two thumbs up for its sparkling, energetic performance on both pieces — the latter being particularly fun (after the manner of "Dueling Banjos").
O'Connor then took the stage with the strings in "Summer," from "American Seasons," his own composition.
While O'Connor's laid-back, Texas-style whine was right on cue and enjoyable, the orchestration was a little harder to swallow. He had set the slides that are idiomatic to the style in all of the string parts, resulting in a smeary sound (which was made even more pronounced by the orchestra's straight, classical style). There was also quite a bit of dissonance, which didn't seem to make sense in the context of the music — especially the violin parts, which were about a quarter step off from everybody else.
Fortunately, the pieces that followed were different. The sweeter, melodic "Appalachia Waltz" followed a beautiful, almost wistful theme. And the five sections from "Strings and Threads" featured as many different styles of American folk music.
Following intermission, the orchestra returned with a rousing rendition of Copland's "Hoe Down," followed by O'Connor returning with "Surrender the Sword."
Perhaps the most exciting piece of the evening, however, was the final one — the finale from O'Connor's Fiddle Concerto No. 3. This was by far the best composition O'Connor presented all evening, with an exciting improvised cadenza.
One final thought: It was interesting that O'Connor played a lot of bits and pieces from his compositions, rather than presenting the works in their entirety.