Utah Symphony to present world premiere of work by Simon Holt
Music • British composer will visit Utah to hear his new work, "Ellsworth 2."
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After two consecutive weekends serving up the works of Tchaikovsky, the Utah Symphony hopes audiences are ready to consume a little more.

On Friday and Saturday, April 26 and 27, the orchestra will present the world premiere of a commissioned work by British composer Simon Holt, whom music director Thierry Fischer called "the Tchaikovsky of the 21st century."

Holt will be visiting Utah for the first time to hear the debut of his 15-minute composition "Ellsworth 2."

"I can't wait to get to Salt Lake City and hear the piece and meet with them," said Holt, 55, who hopes the city is warmer than London, which has had "one of the coldest and grayest winters" in years.

Fischer and Holt have been friends for more than a decade; Fischer noted that he has conducted 10 of Holt's compositions in the past.

The two met in 1998 at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, where Northern Sinfonia, a British chamber orchestra, performed Holt's trilogy "Three pieces for Icarus." Fischer conducted.

"He struck me as being somebody that I really wanted to work with in the future and I'm thrilled that it's worked out that way," Holt said. "He seemed, from the off, as being extremely sympathetic towards the music, and it's always a good sign when I don't feel as if I need to say too much during the rehearsals."

Holt said Fischer got to the "heart of every issue" without needing to ask a lot of questions.

"That doesn't happen very often. He has boundless energy and an irrepressible need to communicate what he feels for the music not only to the players, but to the audience. [He's a] real live wire," Holt said.

When Fischer agreed to become the music director of the Utah Symphony, he wanted to commission works from composers he admired so that the orchestra could be seen as pioneering and exciting. He approached Holt nearly two years ago.

Holt was told to keep the work to 15 minutes, "but beyond that I had a free rein to just get on with it," the composer said.

As he began to think about the composition, Holt — who often uses visual art to inspire his writing — found himself ruminating about "Painting for a White Wall," by American artist Ellsworth Kelly.

A minimalist, Kelly is associated with the abstract Color Field movement that sprang up in the 1940s and 1950s in New York City, where he lived. Experts describe the movement as the utilization of expressive colors in large fields, avoiding the suggestion of a form. Others might call this style "My Kid Could Paint That."

"Initially, I suppose I write to excite myself, never for a specific audience," said Holt. "The audience, for me, is very much whomever turns up on the night. If it goes on to get performances in the future, then all well and good."

Holt said he is very critical of his own work, but hopes not so much that it becomes academic.

"The joy is in letting go and then going to the rehearsal and hearing the players bring whatever they can to it; their imagination, ideas about interpretation and musicianship," he said.

To Fischer, the "contemplative" composition is about colors, not just literally, but figuratively. Holt agreed that the colors conjure feelings, whether expressed in music or on a wall.

"It's very much a purely abstract orchestral piece," Holt said. "The piece has no program as such, which is unusual for me, as there's usually some kind of story going on behind the notes in most of my other pieces."

Holt's new piece will be paired with two classics: Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor and Berlioz's romantic, Romantic "Symphonie fantastique," the piece that introduced Fischer to Utah in his well-remembered 2007 audition concert with the orchestra.

Mozart wrote 12 of his 27 piano concertos within a two-year span, and his 24th is praised for its passion.

Yu Kosuge, 30, a native of Japan now living in Munich, will visit Utah for the first time to perform the piece. Kosuge made her debut with the Tokyo New City Orchestra, and in 1993, she moved to Europe to continue her studies in Hannover and Salzburg.

"I love this concerto," Kosuge said. "It is very symphonic. … I play it quite often."

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'Ellsworth 2'

The Utah Symphony will present the world premiere of a commissioned work by British composer Simon Holt, whom music director Thierry Fischer called "the Tchaikovsky of the 21st century."

When • Friday and Saturday, April 26-27, at 8 p.m.

Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $18 to $53 in advance ($5 more on concert day); 801-355-ARTS (2787), in the ticket officer or at utahsymphony.org.

Info • $10 tickets are available to youth and patrons 30 and younger through the USUO Upbeat program.