One year ago, I was invited to sit on stage and in very close proximity to the entire Utah Symphony orchestra during a rehearsal: On Stage with the Utah Symphony. What a difference a year can make. The 2020 season came with COVID, and our beloved Utah Symphony was forced into exile. What was to be their 80th Anniversary Gala on May 16, 2020, at Abravanel Hall was canceled. The concert was to include two original selections from the Utah Symphony’s inaugural 1940 concert: Johann Strauss, Jr.’s majestic “Emperor Waltzes” and “Moldau” from Smetana’s Má Vlast, as well as Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, to be performed by Joshua Bell, one of the most celebrated violinists of this generation.
With six months of silence, the road back to Abravenal has been a slow and thoughtful one. Much had to happen to ensure everyone’s safety, confidence and ultimately bring back to us the reason we attend a Utah Symphony performance in the first place: To enjoy it. Hired in the midst of the pandemic their newly appointed president and CEO Steven Brosvik says, “In our preparation and evaluation to reopen, we took in the recommendations of several experts including epidemiologists and a chemical engineering team from the U, analyzing airflow and optimum safe distancing.” The plans also have included the scaling back of the size of the orchestra to 40 members (strings-only) until a larger stage expansion can take place and limiting the audience to 400 max. “The ticket office has been extremely busy in accommodating to subscribers, Brosvik says, “All people involved have been incredibly patient and understanding.”
“I’ve felt like a little kid who has been promised ice cream for many weeks,” says Music Director Thierry Fischer, “When we were first introduced to the new arrangement and spacing on stage, it felt strange as orchestra members are accustomed to being in very close proximity with one another.” With only one other symphony orchestra reopening in the United States, Maestro Fischer says, “I personally fought to bring about this reopening, and there were many obstacles. It was a long process with many long meetings. It was a fascinating experience allowing questions, concerns, and strong feelings. It brought about a new leadership approach and dimension of collective building, looking at each point of view. It has been incredible.”
USUO consulted with Tony Saad and James Sutherland, who as chemical engineering professors from the University of Utah created a software analytical program 10 years in the making to determine the existing air-fluidity (flow) and intake on the performance stage and throughout the auditorium. By testing several different approaches they were able to make their most favorable safety recommendations. With this study in conjunction with other research by a local epidemiologist, the USUO leadership formed a strategy based upon their reports. James Sutherland said, “We often worried about making Theirry Fischer upset with the changes, and if it would still work for them?” Standing close, Maestro Fischer said, “It’s not about being upset, it’s about making things happen. Our responsibility is bigger. To succeed here we realized that we have to do it totally together and building collectively.”
For the most up-to-date information, visit usuo.org and follow on social media. Tickets may be purchased using the new Utah Symphony/Utah Opera mobile app, available free for iPhone and Android. Tickets may also be purchased online at usuo.org, or by calling USUO Patron Services at 801-533-NOTE (6683) or through ArtTix.org.