Utah Symphony performs Dvorak for BRAVO!

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Thierry Fischer conducts the Utah Symphony. The Symphony is based in Salt Lake City and usually performs at Abravanel Hall. (Utah Symphony)

The Utah Symphony performed Antonin Dvorak’s famous New World Symphony at BYU on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016 as part of the BRAVO! series.

The relationship between BYU and the Utah Symphony goes back for decades, BRAVO! series director Jeffrey Martin said. The symphony comes to BYU once or twice a year, spending one of their three concert nights in the HFAC’s de Jong Concert Hall instead of Salt Lake City’s Abravanel Hall.

The added proximity and convenience are important, and provide a great opportunity for students and community members, Martin said.

“We want our students and our community to hear this music,” Martin said. “It’s important to us that a professional orchestra is experienced by our community here. So it’s not accidental. We make an effort to bring them and to work out all the details.”

The concert began with two symphonies, “Symphony No. 7 in C Major” by Franz Joseph Haydn and “Symphony No. 1 in D minor” by the American composer Charles Ives.

Haydn’s piece, nicknamed “Le Midi” (or “Noontime”), was scaled for a smaller orchestra and focused on a closer, more intimate sound than many symphonic works. Ives was considered a trailblazer in 19th-century American music. “Symphony No. 1,” full of musical layers, was Ives’s first piece. Its opening is thought to be modeled on Dvorak’s “New World Symphony,” also played during the concert.

The “New World Symphony” is considered by many to have one of the most beautiful melody lines in classical music. When it was first performed at Carnegie Hall in 1893, there was such an enthusiastic round of ovation that Dvorak had to return to the stage to bow over and over again.

Dvorak was a Czech composer fascinated by the ethnic music of the Americas. In an interview with the New York Herald, he lauded the legacy of American music.

“These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil,” Dvorak said. “They are the folk songs of America, and your composers must turn to them.”

Hints of old folk songs, spirituals and Native American music factor highly into the New World Symphony. Many tunes can’t be completely identified, but the second movement introduces what is now a well-known roots song: “Goin’ Home.” It isn’t certain whether Dvorak wrote the tune or whether it was first a folk song, but audience members showed signs of recognition as soon as a clarinet broke into the melody.

Audience members ranged from students on dates, to young families, to established community members.

Natalie Nielson teaches humanities at BYU and often requires her students to attend cultural experiences. She said she tries to attend as well, bringing her three children — ages 11, 8 and 6 — to introduce them to the arts. Her 6-year-old daughter sat curled up on Nielson’s lap through most of the performance.

“I always pick the Utah Symphony because I think it’s just amazing,” Nielson said. “The quality of the orchestra, and they’re so close, and it’s so intimate, and of course the price is fantastic.”

Gloria Jensen and Deanna Adams graduated from BYU many years ago, and both are still patrons of the arts. They said they love it when the symphony comes to their native Provo. Adams said she immediately wanted to attend the concert when she learned the Symphony would be performing Dvorak, which is one of her favorites, but she couldn’t remember when she first heard the piece.

“It was probably on the record player in our house when we were little kids,” Jensen said.

The two said they had no background in music “except for enjoying it,” but they considered themselves lucky to be in attendance.

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