This article was published in the Winter 2019 issue

by Renée Huang, Director of Communications, Utah Symphony | Utah Opera
The crowd erupted, cheering and cat calling a soloist who wore a simple blazer, sneakers, and jeans. Rock concert? No, just another classical performance at Abravanel Hall in the heart of Salt Lake City’s downtown core featuring 85 musicians of the Utah Symphony – who were also clad in blue jeans.

The new series, Unwound, is part of a dressed-down, casual concert experience that Utah Symphony | Utah Opera is curating to bring technological and multimedia elements – and a sense of immediacy and relevancy -- into the symphonic and operatic world.

According to statistics published by the Utah Cultural Alliance, Utah is number one in the country for live arts participation per capita. Creative industries employ 111,919 Utahns and contribute $4.2 billion in earnings making Utah the third fastest state for job growth. In addition, creative industries sales in Utah amounted to $16.1 billion.

Why does that matter to a tech industry readership? Because Utah businesses cite a vibrant arts and entertainment scene as one of the top reasons for laying down roots. Adobe, Overstock, Pluralsight, and other tech giants call Silicon Slopes home. No other place in the nation has the cultural vibrancy and immediate access to the outdoors and recreation like Utah. According to the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, “During 2018-19, 40 companies announced their intentions to grow or expand in Utah. This diverse set of project wins occurred in a variety of communities, both urban and rural, and represented most of Utah’s target industries, including aerospace, life sciences, outdoor products, tech, finance, and manufacturing.”

So, back to culture and performing arts. Why would an organization such as USUO be so invested in innovations in programming that create new audiences? Because despite Utah’s top spot in the nation for live arts consumption, audiences are shrinking across the country. In a survey published by the League of American Orchestras in 2016, total audience size for orchestras shrunk by 10 percent and subscription revenues were also down five percent. Yet art is fundamental to our very humanity and future generations.

According to a 2015 study by The National Association for Music Education, schools with music programs have almost 17 percent higher graduation rate among students and nearly 10 percent higher attendance rate compared to schools without music education. Kids who take music lessons have better cognitive skills and school grades and are more conscientious, open, and ambitious. Integrating arts with other subjects can help raise achievement levels.

That inspiration to create dynamic entertainment has prompted Utah Symphony | Utah Opera to evolve its product. It recently launched Upbeat, an exclusive leadership opportunity for local young professionals who believe USUO’s classical performing arts are vital to a healthy future and who represent the future of arts philanthropy in our community.

The orchestra presents blockbuster movies on a 60-foot screen while performing the soundtrack live to the picture. The result is an exciting concert experience for movie buffs of all ages that breaks all traditional molds for what a typical orchestral presentation “should” be. A November concert program, “America’s Wonders in 3D,” brought the technology of 3D glasses to the hall featuring high definition footage of stunning natural landscapes paired with live symphonic music by the likes of Dvorak and Gershwin.

The Unwound series is another deliberate effort to make the classical experience accessible. Food trucks on the plaza, cash bar in the lobby, a congenial host onstage who explains and rebuffs traditions (such as no clapping between movements), are upstaged only by the fact the orchestra is dressed down in blue jeans – and there are HD cameras trained on the conductor’s face and soloist’s hands broadcasting on large screens above the stage.

On the opera side of the business, Utah Opera is devoted to bringing new opera to the Capitol Theater stage each year, including “Moby-Dick” in January 2017 and “The Little Prince” in January 2018. As an evolving art form with roots in tradition, Artistic Director Christopher McBeth believes contemporary productions shed light on current issues and engage audiences in new and evocative ways.

Indeed, Utah Opera’s 38,000 square foot state-of-the-art Production Studios house space for scenic artists, backdrop and set designers and builders, lighting, woodwork and welding experts, and a full costume studio that employs stitchers and drapers year-round. Costumes for more than 45 productions and sets for nearly two dozen operas are stored and rented to companies around the country.

In January 2020, the opera company debuts “Silent Night”, the 2012 Pulitzer-Prize winning contemporary opera based upon a ceasefire between several European countries along the frontlines of WWI that was made into an Oscar-nominated film in 2017, “Joyeux Noel.”

In short, growing a community of music lovers and using new technology and innovation lies at the heart of Utah Symphony | Utah Opera, whose motto “music changes lives” is the driving force for all it creates.

Read the rest of the articles in the Winter 2019 issue of Silicon Slopes Magazine

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