A trombone sings in Salt Lake with Utah Symphony premiere

Sat Feb 17, 2024 at 12:54 pm
Trombonist Mark Davidson was the soloist in the world premiere of Quinn Mason’s Sonorous Friday night with the Utah Symphony.

It’s homecoming weekend at the Utah Symphony. 

Mark Davidson, recently appointed principal trombone of the Melbourne Symphony in Australia, and former associate conductor Conner Gray Covington are back at Abravanel Hall to premiere a trombone concerto by Quinn Mason, a young composer who is already an old friend of the orchestra.

Mason’s association with the Utah Symphony dates to 2020, when he and Davidson teamed with other members of the orchestra’s brass and percussion sections and then-music director Thierry Fischer on Changes/Transitions, which premiered virtually (you can still see it on YouTube).

Sonorous, the new trombone concerto, is the fourth piece by the 27-year-old composer to be heard here. In remarks before Friday’s performance, Mason noted that Davidson has asked for a piece that would allow the trombone to sing. Each of Sonorous’s three movements emphasizes a facet of the instrument’s sonic personality and allows the soloist to show off his technical and expressive range, as Davidson did in his earnest and carefully crafted performance.

“Rhapsodic,” the opener, is lush and cinematic; Davidson’s songful playing highlighted the trombone’s mellow side. Covington and the orchestra crafted a sea of sound for the soloist to sail across, with occasional conversational episodes. Tempos and balances were well judged throughout.

“Mysterious” featured nocturnal stirrings from the orchestra, while Davidson used an assortment of mutes to showcase different trombone sonorities. A highlight of this movement was a sweetly solemn chorale for the soloist and his three trombonist colleagues. The finale, “Awaken,” had marching-band vibes, with plenty of rapid-fire double-tonguing that brought the audience to its feet.

The program opener, Haydn’s Symphony No. 88, also fit the homecoming theme. A signature piece of the symphony’s late longtime music director Joseph Silverstein, it hasn’t been heard here since 1999. Covington led an appealing performance that was textbook Haydn: beautifully articulated string sound, terraced dynamics, a stately tempo in the slow movement, a rustic minuet, and a fleet-footed finale.

The eighteenth-century elegance of the Haydn contrasted with the nineteenth-century swagger of Strauss’s Don Juan. The orchestra played with boldness and brilliance, capturing the antihero’s recklessness and bravado, but pausing briefly for a beguiling oboe solo from Zachary Hammond.

Covington led a fine performance of Barber’s Symphony No. 1 to close this eclectic program. The 20-minute symphony’s economical structure—four sections corresponding to the traditional four-movement model but played without pause—combined with Covington’s compelling tempos to make for a crowd-pleasing finish. The conductor’s familiarity with the orchestra allowed him to show off each section to good effect, with some memorable solo moments coming from the likes of trombonist Sam Elliot, bassoonist Lori Wike and Hammond.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Saturday. utahsymphony.org

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