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Twentieth-century music, it seems, is still a tough sell at the symphony. A large number of empty seats in Abravanel Hall on Friday was cause for dismay, not just because of the implications for the Utah Symphony's finances but because so many people missed vibrant and colorful performances of some of the century's most exciting music.
Twenty-something pianist Joyce Yang was the evening's soloist in Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1. It's an unusual concerto in a couple of important respects. Most obvious is its use of a secondary soloist, a trumpeter; the Utah Symphony's own Jeffrey Luke filled the role with aplomb. But the concerto also departs from the customary model in that the solo part is more about expression than display. Yang excelled on both accounts. She projected the quietest passages with strength and clarity, and she also summoned thrilling fireworks when appropriate. Guest conductor Pascal Rophé led the Utah Symphony strings in a nicely colored collaboration with the soloists. (Indeed, Rophé proved himself an expert colorist throughout the evening.)
After intermission came one of the 20th century's greatest masterpieces, Bartók's exhilarating Concerto for Orchestra. The piece is jam-packed with terrific tunes, and Rophé and the orchestra dug into them with enthusiasm. The work's many highlights included the jaunty dance of the bassoons in the second movement and the almost alarming intensity of the strings in the fourth.
Stravinsky's ballet "Le Chant du Rossignol (Song of the Nightingale)," based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale, opened the evening. It's a shame that this vivid, witty score isn't heard more often. Rophé and the orchestra gave a beautifully atmospheric account, capped by passages of almost heartbreaking melancholy.
Catherine Reese Newton is a music critic. Contact her at email@example.com or 801-257-8616. Twitter: @cathycomma
P Music of Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Bartók.
With • Conductor Pascal Rophé and pianist Joyce Yang.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City.
When • Reviewed Friday; repeats tonight at 8.
Running time • 2 hours, including intermission.
Tickets • $20-$55, at 801-355-2787 or http://www.usuo.org