Utah Symphony Entertains with Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances”

By Holly Vasic

Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances” presented by the Utah Symphony on Nov. 3, 2017, will not soon be forgotten.

Before we even got to our seats, music could be heard throughout the foyer of Abravanel Hall. Members of the Utah Symphony Youth Guild in the Vivace Violinist performing ensemble, a group that is currently in their premiere season, played in the lobby, enchanting Symphony goers. The violinists ranged from 9 to 15 years old but age was not a factor in the quality of their performance.

Once inside the hall the show opened with Maurice Ravel’s piece “Ma Mere l’Oye”, Mother Goose in English, and as the program notes promised it did have the feeling of a children’s storybook. Considering this is only the second symphony I’ve attended I found this 28-minute long jaunt in fairytale land dreamlike and it did indeed make me feel a bit sleepy.

The 24-year-old William Hagen took the stage after the nursery rhymes ended, and was the guest solo violinist on two arrangements. The pamphlet described during that time in musical history when “Introduction and Rondo capriccioso in A min for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 28” by Charles-Camille Saint Saens premiered as “charismatic pianists and violinists created the template for today’s rock stars.” It was like hearing the symphonic version of Elvis Presley shaking his hips in the late 1950s.

“Tzigane”, another Ravel composition, very much reminded me of the “Fiddler on the Roof.” Although Hagen did not move his body the way the fiddler does, it was fun to watch him play. Ravel was inspired by the eastern European gypsies at the time, a fascination especially prominent in France and Germany, as seen in their art in the 19th and 20th centuries. Thus remembering the musical during this score was not too out of the blue.

The night ended with Symphonic Dances Op. 45 after intermission. The 35-minute Sergei Rachmaninoff arrangement had an air of romance and felt as if you were traveling through the music of someone’s life, with glimpses of their reality. Listening to the movements as a symphony rookie, I found the ebb and flow of the performance kept it interesting. Unfortunately, Hagen was not a part of the finale but the conductor, Matthias Pintscher, was intriguing to witness at work.

The Utah Symphony did an immaculate job representing what Rachmaninoff, Ravel, and Saint Saens had written. The children in Vivace set the tone, thrusting you into the middle of a symphony as soon as you entered, making for a magical evening of music.

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