This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Two of the Utah Symphony's recent high-profile hires will be featured in upcoming concerts. Concertmaster Madeline Adkins, who is in her first full season with the orchestra, and principal flutist Mercedes Smith, who joined in 2012, will solo in Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, along with British conductor and pianist Richard Egarr, music director of the Academy of Ancient Music.
Egarr also will conduct Bach's D Minor Concerto from the keyboard. Lest any Bach buffs look askance at the conductor's choice to use a piano on a piece that was written for harpsichord, but Utah Symphony artistic-planning VP Toby Tolokan pointed to a January article in BBC Music magazine, in which Egarr said, "I would never say you can't play Bach on the piano. I'd play Bach on a synthesizer. It's the same music. You're playing the music on a different machine with different parameters, but the music doesn't change. I'm just playing it with a different tool."
Brandenburg No. 5 is unusual in that the second of its three movements features only the three solo instruments. "It's a particularly lovely movement, kind of melancholy among the buoyance and joy of the outer movements," Adkins said. "It's my favorite because of the counterpoint and complexity. It's almost like a cathedral in its beauty and scale."
This is Adkins' second solo turn with the Utah Symphony this season; she was featured in Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2 in November. She'll also conduct and solo in Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" at Deer Valley this summer and close the 2017-18 season with a performance of the Korngold Violin Concerto.
Though this is the first time Smith will receive top billing on a Utah Symphony concert, she has been active on the local chamber-music scene since she arrived. Her goal from childhood wasn't to be a soloist orchestral and operatic repertoire always held more appeal.
Her fascination with the flute began at age 11, when she entered the band program at her school in the Dallas suburb of Plano. "No one really knows what possessed me" to choose flute, said Smith, who by then had been teaching herself to play her mother's old recorder for a year or two.
Shortly after that, the family moved to a tiny town in rural Arkansas, where Smith was home-schooled and made a weekly trek to Fayetteville for lessons at the University of Arkansas. "That's how I was able to practice four or five hours a day," she said. By the time she was 13 or 14, she had determined that rural life didn't suit her and that music was her ticket out. "I watched musical specials [on PBS] and somehow learned that if you were going to be a professional musician, you needed to get really serious when you were a kid," she said. "I loved the flute so much, and I knew somehow that the time to decide was now."
With a handful of music-competition wins to her credit, she applied to the Manhattan School of Music at 16, "as soon as I felt I could apply," and was accepted. She studied with her idol, former New York Philharmonic principal flutist Jeanne Baxtresser, for a year and a half. Then Baxtresser quit teaching in New York, opting to teach full time at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
"Initially it was a devastating blow," Smith said, "but all things work out for the best." Her new teacher was Michael Parloff, then-principal flutist of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra and editor of the compilation "Opera Excerpts for Flute." With his encouragement, she auditioned for and won the principal position at Houston Grand Opera during her senior year. Her first assignment? Performances of "La Traviata" with superstar Renée Fleming in the title role. Smith was 20.
The Manhattan School worked with her to get her graduation requirements fulfilled, though she missed the commencement ceremony for an opera performance. A year later, she picked up the principal position at the Houston Ballet and held both jobs until she joined the Utah Symphony. In the month leading up to the audition here, she was playing in "La Traviata" once more. This time, the leading lady was the young Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova, and Smith had a clear view of her from her spot in the pit. "I remember thinking, 'This is what my audition needs to be like,' " Smith said. "I've been exposed to so many incredible singers and really been inspired by them."
The Utah Symphony will present an evening of Bach: Orchestral Suites 3 and 4, Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 and the D Minor Keyboard Concerto.
With • Conductor-pianist Richard Egarr, violinist Madeline Adkins and flutist Mercedes Smith
When • Friday and Saturday, March 24 and 25, 7:30 p.m.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $21-$65 (discounts for students, those under 30 and groups); utahsymphony.org
Finishing Touches • Friday's 10 a.m. dress rehearsal is open to the public; tickets are $17, or $15 for students