Utah Symphony plans new road trip to showcase state’s natural and cultural history

This article was originally published in the Salt Lake Tribune.

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(Anne Torrence for the Salt Lake Tribune) Children swing at Teasdale Community Park as the Utah Symphony opens it Mighty 5 Tour on Tuesday Aug. 12, 2014 in Teasdale, Utah.

The Utah Symphony is going on another road trip. Three years after the Mighty 5 Tour took them to the state’s five national parks, Thierry Fischer will lead the orchestra in five outdoor performances at state or national parks and monuments. The 1,200-mile tour, dubbed the Great American Road Trip, will run Aug. 29-Sept. 2.

Guests are composer-instrumentalist Brent Michael Davids, soprano Abigail Rethwisch and baritone Andrew Paulson. Davids, a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Nation and founder of music company Blue Butterfly Group, will perform a movement from his concerto “Fluting Around” on traditional wood flute. Rethwisch, a participant in Utah Opera’s Resident Artist program who stepped up on short notice to sing the title role in the company’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” last month, will sing Davids’ “Spirit Woman Song” and will join Paulson, her husband, in operatic and musical-theater selections. Pieces by composers such as Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Antonín Dvorák will round out the three orchestral programs in or near Zion National Park and Natural Bridges/Hovenweep and Dinosaur national monuments. A brass quintet led by principal trumpet Travis Peterson will perform at Cedar Breaks National Monument and Goblin Valley State Park.

Apart from the concert in Springdale’s O.C. Tanner Amphitheater just outside Zion, “we’ll be creating [performance spaces] from the ground up,” Utah Symphony general manager and operations VP Jeff Counts said after a Tuesday news conference at the Natural History Museum of Utah. The orchestra trucked a portable stage from park to park on the Mighty 5 tour. “We do know how to do this now,” Counts said. “There are unique challenges at each venue, but we feel pretty prepared.” Orchestra staff have made three or four visits to each site already.

“We are honored to once again travel across our magnificent landscape and bring great live music to communities throughout the state,” Fischer said in a news release. “This time, we will focus not only on the natural beauty of Utah but also the cultural beauty, and the human beauty, we find around us. We are so proud to include a Native American performer and composer on the tour and hope our concerts will strengthen the connection between all of the wonderful people who call this special place home.”

Utah Symphony | Utah Opera president and CEO Paul Meecham noted in the news release that two of the tour’s objectives are to “promote a greater understanding and appreciation of Utah’s natural and cultural history” and “to serve more rural and isolated parts of Utah that do not have easy or frequent access to live, professional classical music.”

The orchestra will collaborate with the Natural History Museum of Utah, the University of Utah’s Consortium for Dark Sky Studies and the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative on various outreach activities, including in-school presentations and postconcert star parties.

“We are delighted to be a part of this unique statewide partnership to encourage Utah residents to enjoy their natural surroundings in such a spectacular way,” NHMU executive director Sarah George said in the news release. “We are very excited to add the natural sciences to the team’s outreach efforts and provide engaging, cool, science-based activities for all ages to highlight the truly fascinating natural history that surrounds us in our state.”

Bettymaya Foott, coordinator at Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative, said the star parties will take place near or in accredited or aspiring International Dark Sky Parks, noting, “Utah will soon be home to 25 International Dark Sky Parks, the greatest number of any state, province or non-U.S. country in the world.”

Lead funding for the tour comes from the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, with additional support from FJ Management Inc., the state of Utah, Zions Bank and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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