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This weekend's Utah Symphony program is like two concerts in one: the festive world premiere of Andrew Norman's hyperkinetic percussion concerto "Switch," with the always-entertaining Colin Currie as soloist, and an impassioned performance of Gustav Mahler's epic Symphony No. 5.
"Switch" led off the evening; an inventive premise and dynamic performances by everyone involved made the concerto an instant hit with the Abravanel Hall crowd. Rather than the traditional three movements, it is structured as a series of musical episodes that are intercut, with Currie and three Utah Symphony percussionists operating the musical "switches" that send the listener from one sound world to the next. The effect is reminiscent of channel surfing, but with an added element of interest as the soloist gradually makes his way from one side of the stage to the other.
At times, Norman casts the relationship between the soloist and the ensemble as a cooperative one; at other times, they're in competition or even opposition. Currie's progress across the stage is frequently interrupted or even reversed by the orchestra's actions. The soloist did a bit of acting on top of his rigorous playing.
"Switch" is the second of three world premieres that music director Thierry Fischer and the Utah Symphony have commissioned from American composers to be recorded live for a CD that's scheduled for a spring release. The concerto will also be on the program when Fischer, Currie and the orchestra perform at New York's Carnegie Hall in April.
Fischer and his troops could have been excused if they'd opted for lighter, less challenging fare after the rigors of the world premiere. Instead, they returned from intermission with one of Mahler's more expansive symphonies. From Travis Peterson's outstanding delivery of the opening trumpet solo to the exultant finale, the orchestra played with vigor and commitment. The sublime Adagietto, possibly Mahler's best-known symphony movement, was a high point, distinguished by Louise Vickerman's darkly elegant harp playing.
'Switch' it up
The Utah Symphony presents the world premiere of Andrew Norman's "Switch." This weekend's performances are being recorded for a spring release. Also on the program: Mahler's Symphony No. 5.
With • Conductor Thierry Fischer and percussionist Colin Currie
When • Reviewed Friday, Nov. 6; repeats Saturday, Nov. 7, at 7:30 p.m.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple
Running time • About 2 hours and 10 minutes, including intermission
Tickets • $23 to $89; utahsymphony.org
Vivace • The Utah Symphony's social-networking group will throw a postconcert party at Caffe Molise; tickets to concert and party are $34 (or $15 for students by phone at 801-533-NOTE). Use promo code vivace when ordering.