We get it. Classical music can be scary.

You have this idea of people all dressed to the nines, who are going to give you glares for clapping at the wrong time. You think you'll be bored, because you don't have anything to look at it. You think the music is old and fuddy duddy and out of touch with today's world.

Well guess what? You're wrong. Flat wrong. classical music is awesome. It's the ultimate alternative. What hipster listens exclusively to classical music? None. That's because listening to classical music is the absolute in different, the absolute in cool. Further, the mind comes alive when listening to classical music, as your brain invents the visuals and feelings that the music conveys. You don't need to be handed visuals by some other person's vision. Make your own!

But there's still that intimidation factor.

Seven years ago, Utah Symphony/Utah Opera came up with a solution, Vivace.

It's their group for 20 to 40 somethings (or young at heart). Come single, come married, come partnered. We sit together. No need to bring a date or a friend, plus nobody is going to give you the evil eye for for clapping in between movements. Yes, Utah, that's a faux paux. Dress up if you want to, or don't. We don't care!

Plus, Vivace offers discounts and famous after parties at area restaurants as well as on-site at Abravanel Hall.

Meet the performance's guest artists, the opera casts and crew and the musicians of Utah Symphony. You'll also get a special humor-ized version of the program notes that has been awarded a Best of the Beehive by Salt Lake magazine. It's a fantastic deal. We've even seen a few Vivace romances!

Vivace turns seven this Saturday, March 3.

If you haven't tried Vivace out yet, or haven't been in awhile, now is the time to come back. Tickets are only $48. You'll also get to attend our after-party in Abravanel Hall's exclusive first-tier room. Call 801-533-NOTE (6683) and mention Vivace. Get four friends to buy tickets to Vivace and you'll get a free ticket. 

For fun, I've included this weekend's Behind the Music Primer below to give you a little taste of what you'll get with Vivace. For details visit www.utahsymphony.org/tickets/vivace

Crystal Otterstrom-Young is administrative director of Utah Cultural Alliance, composer for Salty Cricket Composers Collective, Vivace audience development consultant and arts contributor to Salt Lake magazine.

SATURDAY, MARCH 3 | Brahms' Symphony No. 1 & Takemitsu's A String Around Autumn (a viola concerto!)
Concert at 8pm | After-party celebrating Vivace's 7th birthday in Abravanel Hall's Exclusive First-Tier Room

Utah Symphony Principal Viola Brant Bayless

How NOT to embarrass yourself and others (i.e. that wicked phrase, concert etiquette):

First, relax. Classical Music doesn’t bite. Second, you’re not supposed to clap between movements. However, because our orchestra rocks, you’ll be tempted. Persevere. Do clap when the concertmaster (the man with the violin) and the conductor (the man with the baton) come on stage. Third, if you carry ANYTHING that may beep, glow, emit light, vibrate, or burst spontaneously into a musical rendition of your favorite tune such as a wrist alarm, pager, cell phone, tablet, watch, or a long-lived Giga Pet, TURN IT OFF!

Strauss: “Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche” op. 28 (1894-95) | Duration: 16 mins.

Franz Liszt aka The Elvis of Classical Music may have invented the symphonic poem, but Richard Strauss took the concept of programmatic music to new levels with his ten tone poems. A tone poem -- and the larger category of programmatic music in general -- is music that tells a story, or communicates a specific feeling or setting. Till Eulenspiegel was a German trickster dating from the Middle Ages. Supposedly, he was born in 1300 and traveled the Holy Roman Empire playing practical jokes and displaying his impudence towards craftsmen, clergy, and aristocracy alike. It is quite possible that he wasn’t just legend but an actual person. In low German, his name means “whip the arse” which is exactly what he did to the collective bottom of the early fourteenth century. You could even say that you are opening up a can of “Till Eulenspiegel” on people when you are shaking things up! His myth has evolved over time and today there is a museum dedicated to his legend as well as a Russian rock band that shares his name. Strauss gave this little work quite the sub-title: nach alter Schelmenweise - In Rondeauform - für grosses Orchester gestetzt, translated as: after an old rogue's tale - in rondo form - set for full orchestra. The musical joke, however, is that the piece isn’t really a rondo. Typical rondos are comprised of three sections (ABC), of which the first section is repeated around the second two (resulting in ABACA typically). Rather than repeating sections as in a real rondo, Strauss utilized three themes which weave themselves throughout the work around Eulenspiegel’s various pranks and concluding with the rather graphic musical description of his beheading.

Takemitsu: “A String Around Autumn” Viola Concerto (1989) | Duration: 16 minutes

Takemitsu (1930-1996) is considered by many to be one of the most original and ingenious voices of the twentieth century. This distinction is all the more remarkable as he was almost entirely self-taught by listening to recordings of Western music as a teenager in post-war Japan!!! There’s hope for us all. He even taught himself to read notes! Takemitsu said of his discovery of music, “ I began [writing] music attracted to music itself as one human being. Being in music, I found my raison d'être as a man. After the war, music was the only thing. Choosing to be in music clarified my identity." Takemitsu hit the big time when introduced to Igor Stravinsky. Stravinsky had heard Takemitsu’s Requiem on the radio while on tour to Japan and insisted on meeting the young composer. Takemitsu started receiving American premieres and commissions as a result.  Takemitsu’s second compositional period was the result of discovering the American composer John Cage. “The reason for this is that in my own life, in my own development, for a long period I struggled to avoid being "Japanese", to avoid "Japanese" qualities. It was largely through my contact with John Cage that I came to recognize the value of my own tradition.” The result was a lot of awesomely weird music. Takemitsu’s third compositional  period began in the late 70s and lasted until his death. He returned to tonality, saying that he wanted to explore it as a “sea.” Basically meaning that his approach to tonality would be as broad and shifting as the sea is itself. It is tonal, there are chords based on thirds, but these chords are often expanded into large, open sounding spaces ala Debussy. A key might wash in and out quickly, it may stay awhile.

Such is the case for this Viola Concerto. Like Till Eulenspiegel, this is a programmatic work, based on a Japanese poem that is described in the program note. The soloist sees a vision of nature and his purpose is to translate it both to the orchestra and listener. Impressionist, Debussy-sounding, harmonies are found mostly in the strings, whereas more dissonant harmonies are frequently found in the wind and brass sections. The result is a sort of strange, misty landscape. As Brant Bayless, our soloist, communicated to your resident music nerd,  “All the colors are along the lines of a sunny, calm, autumn day although it’s the the sort of sunny fall day that has a subdued, autumnal light. It’s 16 minutes of, ‘Ahh! Nature!’  There isn’t a lot of development to the piece, it’s more like a sophisticated constant variation that grows from a series of five notes that are actually the pentatonic scale.” The pentatonic scale is a series of five notes, rather than the traditional 7, which forms the basis for folk music worldwide, especially in Eastern music. This basic gesture is frequently taken over by the orchestra in an upward climb of increasingly larger steps that loosely follows the circle of fifths. This is the basic organizational system of all music, western or eastern actually. All cultures use fifths as their building block. A fifth is two notes that are five steps apart on a piano. It is the most harmonious sounding interval after the octave. In Western music, as you go from note to note in a series of fifths. an accidental (sharp/flat, depending on your direction) is added to that note’s key signature. This is the circle of fifths. The further away you get from c, the more accidentals in the key signature. Eventually you add so many accidentals that you actually return to C major (no sharps or flats). The original, pentatonic based theme that is introduced by the viola is echoed in the other instrumentals and by how the theme rises in the orchestra following the circle of fifths. The net result is an effect similar to fractals, in which tiny patterns are duplicated when you look at the item as a whole. This is a phenomenon that happens frequently in nature, and it’s brilliant for Takemitsu to organize his piece in a fractal-based manner since it’s program is an autumnal scene.

Replete with special effects and unique instruments, this piece is one of those gorgeous works that doesn’t sound that hard but is actually, in Brant’s words, “ridiculously difficult to execute and frequently explores the nether regions of the viola.” He pointed to a passage in which the viola is asked to do multi octave jumps that are doubled in the violins. A few of the violins bemoaned its difficulty. Imagine how much harder it is for a viola playing the same notes on an instrument that is lower by a fifth! This is a great piece for Brant as he is both an amazing violist and an avid skier who loves the outdoors. [And by avid skier, we mean the sort that never skies on trails, is intimately acquainted with avalanches, and likes to jump out of helicopters to ski where humans were never intended to ski!] Brant finished our conversation by adding, “perhaps this being a crap year for snow has kept me more focused on this piece,” so this year’s dearth of snow must have been just so Brant could learn the Takemitsu!

Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, op. 68  (1876) | Duration: 45 minutes

Some weird and not so weird Johannes Brahms (1833-1876) factoids: 1) Brahms’ mother was 17 years older than his father – a 19th century cougar. 2) His family was quite poor growing up (Dad a musician, mom a seamstress), so young Brahms supplemented the family income by playing the piano in restaurants, theaters, AND it’s urban legend that Brahms played in bars that doubled as brothels in his early teens. 3)  In addition to piano, Brahms also studied the cello when young.  His dreams of becoming a world famous cellist ended when his teacher stole his cello and skipped town. 100% true. 4) Brahms had the most amazing beard ever. He began to grow it in his late 40’s. Some have suggested it was over-compensation as he was well into his twenties when his voice finally changed and he needed to start shaving. Also, 100% true. 5) When Brahms was 19, he went on a tour accompanying a famous violinist during which he met Joseph Joachim, the biggest violin virtuoso of the day. Joachim fell instantly in love with Brahms’ music and wrote a letter to the composer Robert Schumann  about how much Brahms rocked.  Brahms then showed up at the Schumanns’ front door and basically moved in.  Robert even went so far as to call Brahms the “next Beethoven,” saying he was a musical messiah who would “spring forth like Minerva fully armed from the head of Jove.” 

When you figure out what that means, let me know.  Try living up to that! 6) Needless to say, Brahms became a perfectionist and reworked his music dozens of times before he would finally allow it to be published.  He also destroyed thousands of compositions that he deemed unworthy of his name.  He was 43 before he finally finished his first symphony, and  he’d been working on that composition or 15 years!  He was that afraid of living up to the Beethoven standard.  Although, Brahms was a mature composer with his own voice his First Symphony is so Beethoven-like that it is often called, “Beethoven’s Tenth.” 7) Brahms’ romantic preferences have long been debated.  He never married and was once engaged but backed out of that.  He had a “special” relationship with Clara Schumann, the wife of Robert Schumann. She was a world famous pianist and incidentally 14 years his senior (see the trend?).  Anyway, some scholars have speculated that perhaps he was gay and that his relationship with Clara was purely platonic.  Nobody knows but the beard, and it ain’t talking. 8) In 1890, at the age of 57, Brahms decided to stop composing. Spooky! Pretty much the same age that Ives and Sibelius both quit composing.  However, Brahms got over it.  The sweet beard must have saved him.

The Great Musical Divide: Back in those days, you where either in the Brahms music mafia, or the Wagner music mafia. (Anyone hearing Godfather music now?) Wagner was all about experimental music and Brahms was all about trying to be just like Beethoven. Wagner was the musical antithesis of everything that Brahms stood for. The Wagnerites and the Brahmites engaged in constant bickering, music critics would play sides, and even famous performers had to choose which composer they would play for. It eventually went so far that Brahms tried to organize a public protest of Wagner’s music.  Can you imagine all those music nerds marching around with protest signs saying, “Down with Wagner! Shame on Wagner for breaking the rules! Listening to Wagner is the devil!” As you’ve probably guessed, the protest was a massive failure and only 3 people signed Brahms’ petition. 

How did this great war start, you may ask? It wasn’t only about differences in music styles. Brahms had also met Franz Liszt on his fateful accompanying tour at 19. At this meeting, Brahms fell asleep during a performance of Liszt’s Sonata in B minor played by Liszt himself. Liszt found this less than complimentary, and encouraged the division. Naturally, Liszt took Wagner’s side, seeing as Wagner was married to Liszt’s illegitimate daughter Cosima.
About the music: Schumann not only named Brahms as the next Beethoven, but he also encouraged Brahms to write a symphony saying, "If one only makes the beginning, then the end comes of itself.” Brahms tried a few times and eventually diverted these efforts into other works. The premiere of his First Symphony was certainly a big deal for the music world at the time. Its reviews were mixed, partly owing to the Wagner/Brahms war. Like all of Brahms’ works, it is a technical powerhouse. The writing is extraordinary, and the counterpoint (how lines play off of each other basically) is wonderful. The symphony is innovative while also looking back to the past, and it is rife with gorgeous melodies. Indeed, you may be interested to know that the appellation of “Beethoven’s 10th” was given by the conductor Hans von Bülow, the first husband of Cosima Wagner and a definite member of the Wagner camp. It was certainly intended as an insult, but even Brahms himself acknowledged that connection. Indeed, how could be likened unto Beethoven ever be an insult! Brahm’s finale to his Symphony No. 1 is so similar to Beethoven’s Choral Symphony (No. 9), that when a friend pointed out the similarity, Brahms retorted, "Any fool can see that!"