Dawn to Dust - Thierry Fischer/Utah Symphony (Reference Recordings)
What happens when you combine a level of discovery with familiarity? Thierry Fischer, the music director of the Utah Symphony, says it leads to a larger, younger audience in the concert hall. "I do believe that discovery is part of knowing yourself better," he explains. "There are other things which can do this as well … but this notion of sitting in a hall with a community and listening to your orchestra is something which means a lot to me and I am aware of what we can help and serve: the notion of beauty, of possibilities and my programming is entirely devoted to this notion of discovering."
Since Fischer accepted the full-time post of music director in 2011, the Utah Symphony has commissioned at least six new works, three of which appear on its new recording, Dawn to Dust. These new discoveries are introduced to audiences when they come to the concert hall to hear music that's more in their comfort zone from Beethoven, Haydn and Mahler. "But I think one of the keys we're trying to do here is to have this diversity even in one evening program, when we can program in a way that everyone feels there's something on the program they want to hear," Thierry says. "And slowly our goal is to make sure people are coming because they know, even if they're not familiar with the repertoire, they're going to have a good time because of our commitment to deliver the highest product possible, whatever the repertoire is."
The Utah Symphony celebrated its 75th anniversary this season with three newly commissioned works, all of which appear on this new recording, Dawn to Dust. It all started in the summer of 2014, when the Utah Symphony brought music and nature together by offering free concerts in each of Utah's five national parks. Just before the tour, Thierry Fischer met with composer Nico Muhly about the anniversary commissioning idea. Very spontaneously, they both came up with the same idea. "As we had this tour planned and Nico is a fan of Utah and then suddenly we thought it would be a good idea to have him hanging around us for a week. He listened to rehearsals and the concert; he was listening to our orchestra while watching this stupefying scenery we were in and he wrote little sketches, ideas, and it ended up turning into an absolutely fascinating piece in five movements, reflecting five different aspects of the nature in Utah.
"I remember my feeling before giving the downbeat of the piece for the first time like everything had full sense," Thierry continues. "He asked a friend of his to film a video as well of Utah scenery so we had a giant screen, not a straight screen, but like a shape of mountains and the orchestra was in the dark and for the audience and for us it was very inspiring that we performed the music on top of a video showing what Nico was thinking about."
When Augusta Read Thomas composed "EOS (Goddess of the Dawn)," a ballet for orchestra, she combined her two greatest passions, Greek mythology and dance. It's a complex piece, that sounds very simple. "And I think you can hear this in the music," Thierry says. "And all her references to Greek mythology are very present both in titles and the almost mathematical construction she's making. She had a drawing of her piece with the timeframe for all of us, and when she showed the drawings to the players they were all fascinated and it helped them to play the piece differently than just playing the notes."
The final world premiere on this recording was written by Andrew Norman. In this work for percussion and orchestra featuring Colin Currie, titled "Switch," the percussionist is in control, switching the members of the orchestra on and off. I asked Thierry what he thought when one critic described the work as "the Twilight Zone meets Alice in Wonderland."
"When you talk about the quote you just said and when you listen to his music, it's the wildest you can ever imagine without any sense of moderation or limits," Thierry says. "It's like the first time I heard for example the first movement of Mahler 8, I was physically almost dizzy of this wave of voices singing in the highest register for 25 minutes. And the first time I conducted Andrew's "Switch," I had exactly the same feeling. Is it really possible, despair, turmoil, hope, complete abandon, is it controlled manipulation … everything came out when we first read the piece."
Thierry Fischer and the Utah Symphony gave that electrifying piece its New York debut just last week at Carnegie Hall. It's all part of Thierry Fischer's master plan for the Utah Symphony, a job that he almost turned down until he realized this was the former orchestra of Maurice Abravanel. "When you know what he did with this orchestra, locally, and nationally I thought, yeah, maybe one week is worth just having a look. So I came here and to my surprise, I liked it a lot. I liked the hall, the people. So I decided to accept the offer and here we are and I don't regret for one minute this choice. I think we've done very interesting things since I've arrived."
And many more interesting things to come, as Thierry Fischer's contract has been renewed through 2019.