11 Oct 2013

On the Road with the Utah Symphony

Written by Eric Hopkins, Percussionist and Associate Principal Timpanist
The Utah Symphony spent the first weekend of October this year on a mini-tour to Southern Utah. The orchestra boarded its two usual tour buses and headed to St. George and Cedar City, performing three shows in a short-but-sweet three day period. By luck or fate, we managed to both avoid the early snowfall in Salt Lake and let the biannual LDS General Conference have the spotlight.
When the orchestra convened for departure on Thursday morning near the Energy Solutions Arena, it looked more like an outdoor enthusiasts’ meet-up than orchestra musicians going to work. Granted three guys in athletic shirts, who were not related to the symphony, happened to be loading their climbing and cycling gear into a RAV4 parked right next to our buses. However three musicians did bring their bicycles along for the trip, stowing them under the bus. Without the tails and black formalwear, the orchestra donned its best fall casual for a comfy bus ride.

  Travis Peterson and Anne Lee
Travis and Anne study arduously.

On the bus, a single topic of conversation predominated. It’s not that orchestral musicians are not cultured, political, well-read, or generally well-rounded and interesting people, it’s just that a lot of us had something on our minds – Salome – our first opera of the fall season, which we would start rehearsing the following week. This ‘music drama,’ as its composer Richard Strauss referred to it, is rampant with tricky, exposed passages for most instrumentalists, and the texture can be complex, with a lot of intricate passages happening in conjunction. Thanks to Wikipedia and the public domain, an orchestral score showing all the parts is readily available online. And thanks to smart phones, the Internet can be accessed on a tour bus. Bam.
I’m not going to lie, the whole trip was pretty seamless, unfortunately for provocative blogging. The scenery was beautiful. The landscape morphed from yellowed, sun-beat grass to deep, pasty red rock as we descended south towards Zion. We musicians noted the One Man Band Diner, and as we passed Levan, someone pointed out that that spells ‘navel’ backwards, the belly button of Utah. We had a few hours of downtime each day, but we couldn’t go to Zion National Park for various reasons (#CanYouReallyCloseANationalPark?), but I for one had my bicycle, my legs, and my A-game. Besides, what else was there to do? Our recreation time on Day 2 was spent in Beaver, Utah, which, in addition to boasting the best drinking water around, was mostly just open desert.

Erin Voellinger and Eric Hopkins
Erin and Eric take a hike.

Mercedes Smith and David Porter
Mercedes and David look for water.

The orchestra performed two different programs on the tour, lead by assistant conductor Vladimir (‘Vlada’) Kulenovic. The first program was a high impact show including Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, as well as some classical era symphonic repertoire of Beethoven and Mendelssohn. The second performance and program was the debut of our morning Education concert, an interactive show for K-12 audiences which the orchestra will perform around the region throughout the school year.
For myself and the other brand new and mostly new musicians in the orchestra, this was the first tour of many to come. It gave us new folk the chance to really get to know our colleagues and hang out in a casual setting. After shows at night, we would flock to a few hotel rooms to play cards and discuss the triumphs or oddities of the show that night, to debate about orchestra politics, or just to talk life. That bonding time enhances our musical and personal unity as a cohesive ensemble, so that we can be that much more ready for to tackle Salome (not literally) and all of our future concerts and endeavors.