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World-renowned pianists Huntsman, Biss, Ax set to kick off Utah Symphony season

SHARE World-renowned pianists Huntsman, Biss, Ax set to kick off Utah Symphony season

The first time Mary Anne Huntsman heard Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, it brought tears to her eyes. She was 7 years old at the time, and she remembers going home and telling her parents that she wanted to perform that piece with the Utah Symphony one day.

She'll soon be able to scratch that off her bucket list as Huntsman will be one of three world-renowned piano soloists, along with Jonathan Biss and Emanuel Ax, performing at Abravanel Hall in September to kick off the 2016-17 Utah Symphony season.

Huntsman, the oldest daughter of former Utah governor and presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr., recalls spending a significant part of her childhood huddled around the family piano; both of her parents play, and much of her desire to become a musician stems from their example in the home.

"Every time my dad came home from work, he would always sit down and just play, so that’s what I remember since I was a baby," Mary Anne Huntsman told the Deseret News in a phone interview.

Huntsman said although she has dabbled in politics by helping her father and Sen. John McCain campaign for president, music has always been her true passion. She began playing the piano by ear at 3 years old and started taking formal lessons at age 7. As she grew older, Huntsman said she continued to develop her musical skills and her resume: She attended the Manhattan School of Music, has played at Carnegie Hall and performed in China, where she lived for a stretch of her young adulthood. Her talent also granted her several opportunities to perform for embassies in Washington, D.C., which led to a recent concert in France with the Nice Philharmonic.

Now, the D.C.-based Huntsman returns home for the Utah Symphony’s 77th Season Opening Gala on Sept. 13, where she will fulfill her childhood dream of performing Rachmaninoff in front of her family and friends.

"It’s always great to come back," Huntsman said. "There’s always a lot more pressure when you come back home because you know a majority of the audience, but it’s always fun and exciting, and I’m especially excited to be playing the Rach 2 with the Utah Symphony."

Award-winning pianist Jonathan Biss will also be performing as part of the symphony's opening month, as he undertakes Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 on Sept. 9-10.

Biss studied at Indiana University and at the Curtis Institute of Music, later becoming the first American to be selected as a BBC New Generation Artist in 2002, according to a press release from the Utah Symphony. It will be his second time performing with the Utah Symphony, with which he told the Deseret News he has "very happy memories."

Biss began playing the piano at age 6, and although becoming a professional pianist was more of a "happy accident" than part of a "master plan," he said the experiences he has had with the piano have created "a recipe for a very great musical life."

"Music was something I was passionate about in the beginning, and I think the more I delved into the piano, the more clear it became that that was the path for me," he said.

As a lifetime lover of music, Biss hopes many will come out to hear the Utah Symphony perform this season.

"There’s no question in my mind that music is meant to be experienced live," he said. "As much as I love the great recordings that I have — and there are certain ones that I have come back to again and again — the experience of hearing music recorded is really, at best, a pale imitation of what it is to experience a connection that a performer has with a piece of music in the concert hall. There’s visceral feel to that which can’t be approximated, I would say, by a recording."

Utah Symphony conductor Thierry Fischer is confident that his musicians and their special guests will provide audiences with memorable experience as they perform this season.

"We spend so much time searching for completely new experiences in art that we often forget how much there is still left to discover in our traditional masterpieces," Fischer said in the symphony's press release. "To find something special and fresh in each performance of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky is not only our privilege, it is our duty."

Rounding off the trio of pianists to perform with the symphony in September will be seven-time Grammy Award-winning pianist Emanuel Ax, who will perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, “Emperor,” with Fischer and the Utah Symphony on Sept. 16-17.

Ax first debuted with the Utah Symphony in February 1978, under Maestro Maurice Abravanel, according to the symphony's press release. He has also played in Utah under former symphony directors Joseph Silverstein and Keith Lockhart. These concerts will mark Ax's return to Abravanel Hall after a 17-year absence from the Beehive State and will be his first time performing with Fischer.

Later in the season, the Utah Symphony is also slated to host special guests Jeffrey Kahane and Yefim Bronfman to complete the Beethoven concert series. Other concerts throughout the season will feature additional guests and uniquely themed concerts revolving around a variety of genres: classical music, superhero soundtracks, video games, Halloween, espionage films and more.

Tickets to Utah Symphony concerts can be found online at utahsymphony.org/tickets or artsaltlake.org.

Contributing: Whitney Butters Wilde

If you go …

What: Beethoven and Tchaikovsky with the Utah Symphony, featuring Jonathan Biss

When: Sept. 9-10, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple

How much: $21-$79

Phone: 801-355-2787

Web: utahsymphony.org/tickets or artsaltlake.org

Also …

What: Utah Symphony's 77th Season Opening Gala, featuring Mary Anne Huntsman

When: Sept. 13, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple

How much: $21-$79

Also …

What: Emanuel Ax plays Beethoven's "Emperor"

When: Sept. 16-17, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple

How much: $21-$79

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