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Utah Symphony’s 2020-21 season: 5 things to watch for

The upcoming season features everything from Beethoven to the Beatles

Thierry Fischer, music director of the Utah Symphony, conducts during a practice session at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019.
Thierry Fischer, music director of the Utah Symphony, conducts during a practice session at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Symphony announced its 2020-21 season Tuesday afternoon. Now in his 10th full season with the orchestra, Thierry Fischer continues to lead the orchestra with unique and diverse programming.

“The changes that he has made in the quality of the orchestra, just the way that he asks (the musicians) to perform ... has really invigorated the orchestra,” said Pat Richards, Utah Symphony and Utah Opera interim CEO. “And you can kind of hear the difference.”

Here are five things to look out for during the symphony’s upcoming season.

1. Family entertainment

The Utah Symphony continues its family entertainment with its Films in Concert series, where the musicians perform the scores to classic movies as they unfold on the big screen.

The symphony will perform “Back to the Future” on Oct. 29 and 30; Disney Pixar’s “Beauty and the Beast” on Dec. 23 and 24; “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1” on March 5 and 6, 2021; and “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” on June 25 and 26.

Other family events next season include “Revolution: The Music of the Beatles” on Nov. 6 and 7; a performance from Celtic Woman on Dec. 15; Cirque de la Symphonie — featuring live music and acrobats — on Dec. 18 and 19; and a program called “Video Games Live!” that will highlight music from classic video games on Jan. 2, 2021.

“Our musicians really are quite versatile and actually enjoy doing the entertainment series and bringing in new audiences — which actually not every orchestra can do,” Richards said.

2. Getting ‘Unwound’

Is it acceptable to wear jeans to a symphony concert? The Utah Symphony seems to think so. The orchestra will again be doing its “Unwound” concert series during the 2020-21 season. The casual concert experience includes entertainment, food, large screens that give concertgoers an up-close view of the musicians and a Q&A following the performance.

“People come from all over. They come in blue jeans, they come from work, they mingle in the lobby and just have a great time,” Richards said. “I think we’re much more casual people these days. That image of the symphony as being something you have to dress for and behave and really not be yourself, we want to break that image down.”

Two “Unwound” performances will take place next season. The first will feature British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, led by German conductor Jun Markl, on Oct. 24 in an Oktoberfest-themed event. In the second “Unwound” event, on Feb. 6, 2021, Korean violinist Inmo Yang will perform Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, led by Fischer.

3. A new composer

One person to watch out for this upcoming season is Arlene Sierra — the Utah Symphony’s new composer-in-association. The season will feature three of Sierra’s works: the U.S. premieres of “Aquilo” on Nov. 13 and 14 and “Nature Symphony” on Jan. 29 and 30, 2021; and the world premiere of “Bird Symphony” on April 23 and 24, 2021.

The London-based composer — and Latin Grammy Award nominee — uses sounds from nature as the primary source for her music.

Arlene Sierra is the composer-in-association for the Utah Symphony’s 2020-21 season.
Ian Phillips-McLaren

“If you look at the natural world, you have predators, you have prey, you have plants, you have different living things all trying to find and keep their place and survive in relation to all these other things that have other goals. How does that relate to music? Well for me, it was a very interesting way of mapping relationships between different instruments,” Sierra has previously said.

Richards is excited for Sierra to be featured next season.

“Our studies show that female composers — even modern, living composers — aren’t performed as often as men, and yet there’s just as many of them,” said Richards, who also works with the League of American Orchestras. “So to have the opportunity to highlight a rising star in the composition field is just really exciting for us.”

4. Celebrating Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday bash continues.

“Almost all orchestras in the world are paying some kind of attention to that really landmark event,” Richards said.

The Utah Symphony will celebrate by performing all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos throughout the 2020-21 season.

British pianist Stephen Hough will open the Utah Symphony’s 2020-21 season with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5.
Sim Canetty-Clarke

British pianist Stephen Hough will open the season with Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” on Sept. 18 and 19, and Piano Concerto No. 4 on Sept. 25 and 26, both led by Fischer. Grosvenor will perform Piano Concerto No. 3 on Oct. 23 and 24 in his Utah Symphony debut with guest conductor Markl. Argentine pianist Ingrid Fliter will perform Piano Concerto No. 1 with Rune Bergmann leading the orchestra on Dec. 3 and 4; and Swiss pianist Louis Schwizgebel will perform Piano Concerto No. 2 on Dec. 11 and 12 with guest conductor David Afkham.

5. 15 first-ever performances

The Utah Symphony may be starting its 81st season later this year, but the orchestra isn’t in the business of recycling programming. The upcoming season will feature 15 “first-ever” Utah Symphony performances of classical and contemporary pieces — including pieces from five living composers.

“That’s very much a part of our DNA under Maestro Fischer,” Richards said with a laugh. “He is a person who likes to explore and likes to find and present new things.”

Some of these pieces include Richard Strauss’ “The Woman Without a Shadow” Symphonic Fantasy on Sept. 18 and 19; Prokofiev’s “Cinderella” Suite and Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1 on Sept. 24 and 25; the U.S. premiere of Michael Jarrell’s “Emergences-Resurgences” on Nov. 20 and 21, and the performance of Chinese-American composer Zhou Tian’s “Trace” on April 9 and 10, which tells the story of Tian’s disappearing homeland, according to a news release.

“Music is constantly evolving,” Richards said. “All of the Beethoven that we will be presenting ... were once fresh, new compositions — and not all of them were very well accepted. But they have aged well over the years, and hopefully these things that we’ll be presenting next year will do the same.”