Hillary Hahn

Salt Lake City


Group of youths posing.

Composer Augusta Read Thomas with the Utah Youth Symphony. Photo by Hillary Hahn

In the vein of encouraging creativity, the Utah Symphony used a FY 2015 NEA grant to support the world premiere commission of EOS by Augusta Read Thomas, the first woman and second American composer featured by Utah Symphony under the leadership of Music Director Thierry Fischer and his commitment to commission a new work annually. While Thomas is a composer of international renown, she has a special connection to Utah: the Utah Symphony previously premiered another of her works as part of our Chamber Music Series in 2007, and Thomas has also been composer-in-residence at the University of Utah.

In a letter to the Utah Symphony following the premiere, Thomas wrote, “Composers throughout history have needed the strong backing of great musicians, conductors, music leaders, and music lovers, who are of the depth, soul, excellence, vision, and care as you all are at USUO (Utah Symphony | Utah Opera) -- who program, perform and support music with expertise and sparkle. Without such support, composition is an impossible endeavor at which to improve…”

Commissioning EOS not only helped Utah Symphony audiences experience a longstanding tradition of contemporary music programming, but the work’s premiere and surrounding events provided a unique opportunity for audiences in the western U.S., where orchestral music premieres are relatively uncommon. Furthermore, the Utah Symphony partnered with composition departments from surrounding universities to bring together composition students, professors, and working composers with Thomas, who discussed the creative process, career development, and new music in modern society. This NEA grant was more than simply providing seed money for presenting a single piece of music—it was the lynchpin for meaningful engagement with our community and connecting with the next generation of emerging local artists and students. We received wonderful feedback from our local composers who found the open rehearsal experience mesmerizing, delightful, and invaluable as a unique, non-lecture learning experience. Participants were able to watch the artistic process unfold and listen to comments from Thomas and Fischer to the musicians as they worked on finer details of putting the piece together.

Due to the success of our NEA-supported projects, USUO will be recording three commissions and world premieres by the Utah Symphony throughout the 2015 calendar year, which is the Symphony’s 75th year. A federal grant of just $10,000 has helped make it possible for USUO to undertake other projects with composers, such as recordings and community engagement.