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The Utah Symphony soon will head back to the recording studio in Abravanel Hall. Performances of two Prokofiev works will be recorded live for commercial release, the orchestra's fourth such project with Reference Recordings under music director Thierry Fischer.
The two suites, derived from Prokofiev's film scores for "Lieutenant Kijé" and "Alexander Nevsky," will bookend a third Prokofiev composition: his Violin Concerto No. 2, which will feature new concertmaster Madeline Adkins in her concerto debut with the orchestra.
Adkins' tenure officially began with the season opener in September, but she played three weekends last season as part of the audition process and four more as guest concertmaster after her appointment was announced last December. "The orchestra has been so welcoming and friendly," she said. She and her husband of nearly six years, software engineering manager John Forrest, were struck right away by the "small-town feel and big-city amenities" of their new hometown and have enjoyed taking hikes and scenic drives. Adkins reported that the couple's four cats like it here, too.
Her welcome to Salt Lake City was a little bumpy when she arrived for her audition, her luggage didn't. So, grateful that a curtain separates orchestra hopefuls from the audition committee, she took the audition in sweat pants. When she advanced to the next round, which also is conducted blind, she decided to wear the lucky sweats again. She still has them, along with the luggage tag that directed her bags to Chicago's Midway International Airport, but she joked that she brings them out for "only the finest performances."
Adkins, 39, grew up in a highly musical family in Denton, Texas. She's the youngest of eight siblings whose parents were music professors at the University of North Texas. (Six of the eight are professional musicians now; the family also includes a scientist and an accountant.) Music lessons weren't an "if" but a "when," so Madeline took up the violin at age 5. She also studied voice for eight years and dabbled in "weird Baroque instruments." After graduating from high school at age 16, she earned a bachelor's degree at UNT and a master's at the New England Conservatory, winning a spot as assistant concertmaster in the Baltimore Symphony while still a student. She was promoted to associate concertmaster after five seasons, a spot she held for 11 more seasons before joining the Utah Symphony.
"It was a unique challenge as a 22-year-old starting a symphony orchestra job and sitting in front of people of twice your age and experience," Adkins said, "but you just jump in at the deep end and figure it all out. You just have to earn people's respect which you have to do at any age by always being prepared and professional."
Her stand partner, associate concertmaster Kathryn Eberle, said she's looked up to Adkins for more than two decades. The two met as students at the Sewanee Summer Music Festival in Tennessee when Eberle was 11 and Adkins was one of the cool teenagers. "I always looked up to her for her incredible musicianship and who she is as a person," Eberle said. "Madeline brings incredible artistry with wonderful experience in addition to being a really supportive colleague and leader."
Jeff Counts, the Utah Symphony's vice president of operations and general manager, is also a longtime fan, dating back to his time in Baltimore Symphony management while Adkins was associate concertmaster there. "I was immediately impressed" with her playing, he said. "Madeline brings a lot of expression, grace and a very polished leadership style. … I know people will be thrilled when they hear what she can do as a soloist."
"We got an excellent preview of her solo playing [Nov. 2-4] during Haydn's Seventh Symphony," Fischer added in an email. "If those performances are any indication of what is in store for us on Prokofiev, it should be an amazing collaboration."
Adkins first performed the Prokofiev concerto about 10 years ago in Baltimore and has played it a few times since. "It has one of the all-time great slow movements," she said, as well as a "really driving, rollicking [finale] that's exciting for me as well as the audience." Because it was composed in three countries and premiered in a fourth, it also has a lot of musical flavors, she added.
The "Nevsky" cantata, which will feature the Utah Symphony Chorus (prepared by Barlow Bradford), and the symphonic suite from "Lieutenant Kijé" show even more facets of Prokofiev. Counts said the music has "an infectious energy that matches well with Thierry and the kind of sound and energy we're building here." He's especially pleased that the Utah Symphony Chorus will be featured on the new CD. "We just did a disc [of Mahler's Eighth Symphony] with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which is a dream come true for any orchestra, but we're proud of the work of the symphony chorus as well."
The Utah Symphony performs music of Prokofiev.
With • Conductor Thierry Fischer, violinist Madeline Adkins, mezzo-soprano Alisa Kolosova and the Utah Symphony Chorus
When • Friday and Saturday, Nov. 18-19, 7:30 p.m.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $21-$79; utahsymphony.org