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There are two things you need to know about this weekend's Utah Symphony program well, three, really.
First: If you find Mahler's Symphony No. 7 an especially tough nut to crack, you aren't alone. Many listeners have wondered just what the great composer was getting at in the Seventh, which is prone to taking off in surprising directions, particularly in the enigmatic final movement.
The second thing you should know is that if you give music director Thierry Fischer and the orchestra half a chance, they will keep you riveted for the symphony's entire 75-minute running time. You might even end up saying, as Arnold Schoenberg did, "I simply cannot understand how I was not won over to this before."
The first of the symphony's two "Nachtmusik" movements received an especially magical performance Friday night. From the sylvan mystery of the opening section, highlighted by horn calls from Edmund Rollett and Ronald Beitel, to the enchanting woodwind conversation that took place near the end, this movement was filled with unexpected wonders. An intriguing interplay between the orchestra's string players and unbilled guitar and mandolin players gave added interest to the second "Nachtmusik." Several orchestra members, including concertmaster Ralph Matson, principal violist Brant Bayless and principal cellist Rainer Eudeikis, demonstrated how much meaning can be conveyed in just a couple of bars of music. The brass section, led by trumpeter Travis Peterson, was also on point. And of special interest to longtime Utah Symphony fans, former principal trombonist Larry Zalkind who took a job on the Eastman School of Music faculty in Rochester, N.Y., last year is back for a special guest appearance, performing the symphony's haunting opening theme on the rarely heard tenor horn.
The third thing to know about this program is that even if Mahler isn't enough to get you out of the house, violinist Augustin Hadelich's performance of Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4 shouldn't be missed. Hadelich is a rising star in the violin world, with a tone as warm and smooth as caramel. He played the concerto including his own graceful and charming cadenzas with consummate polish and expression, then rewarded the appreciative (and near-capacity) Abravanel Hall crowd with a stunning performance of the Andante movement from Bach's A Minor Violin Sonata.
Music of Mozart and Mahler
With • Conductor Thierry Fischer and violinist Augustin Hadelich
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
When • Reviewed Friday, Jan. 8; repeats Saturday, Jan. 9, at 7:30 p.m.
Running time • 2 hours and 10 minutes, including intermission
Tickets • $23-$84 (discounts for students); utahsymphony.org