Simon Holt - St. Vitus in the Kettle

Written by Jeff Counts

THE COMPOSER – SIMON HOLT (b. 1958) – Lancashire-born composer Simon Holt has enjoyed significant recent successes with a couple of Utah Symphony favorites. His award-winning 2005 violin concerto witness to a snow miracle was premiered by Viviane Hagner and Colin Currie premiered the percussion concerto a table of noises (also awarded) in 2008. Our own Maestro Thierry Fischer conducted the first performance of Holt’s Troubled Light in 2008 at the BBC Proms.  

THE MUSIC – St. Vitus was the 4th century Sicilian martyr who became patron saint of Bohemia, dancers, actors, comedians and epileptics. He was also credited with protection against animal bites and violent weather. Mr. Holt’s own excellent and descriptive note on St. Vitus in the Kettle, composed for the opening of Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff, explains the origin of the work’s highly specific title. “Walking round the Bode Museum in Berlin at the beginning of 2008, I came upon a medieval sculpture of St. Vitus depicted bubbling away in a cauldron of boiling lead. Looking rather serene and yet not a little comical, he seemed to be some way over the age of between 7 and 12 – the age that unreliable legend tells us he was at the time of his martyrdom.” After being labeled a sorcerer, he was “tortured in numerous ways, including being dipped into a cauldron of boiling lead from which he leapt unscathed. In the 16th century, for whatever improbable reason, the Germans believed that by dancing in front of his statue on the saint’s feast day, they would be granted a year’s good health. Naturally the dancing became a mania and was eventually confused with a nervous disorder known as St. Vitus’ dance.” Mr. Holt has stated that for him, the music often flows from the title. The title, he says, “activates memories and when memories come, musical ideas come with those thoughts attached to them.”                     

THE WORLD – Barack Obama became the first black U.S. President in 2008. No Country for Old Men won the Best Picture Oscar and Junot Diaz won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for his novel The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  

THE CONNECTION – This weekend’s concerts mark the Utah Symphony premiere of St. Vitus in the Kettle and the debut performances of music by Simon Holt.