s part of the Faust Festival, or Faust-ival,
members of the Utah Symphony and extraneous actors and dancers provided
a modern concert a la carte at Libby Gardner Concert Hall. Under
the baton of guest conductor Scott Yoo, members of the Utah Symphony
played Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta
and Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat. Yoo’s presence
made the night worthwhile, even if other aspects were lacking.
The Faust Festival has been going on since the latter part of September
and won’t end until the beginning of November. It is a series
of lectures, films and musical performances sponsored by the Utah
Symphony and Opera that focuses on Goethe’s timeless Faust
legend. Whether the subjects are directly taken from Goethe’s
work or run along the same thematic lines, the festival has provided
an interesting exploration into the world of early Romantic thought
Along the lines of the Faustian legend is Stravinsky’s L’Histoire
du Soldat (A Soldier’s Tale). Although this work was originally
written as a mobile stage work with a narrator, a few actors, minimal
set pieces and a small instrumental ensemble, it is rarely done
with all of the forces. It is usually heard as a music suite without
the extraneous elements. While pent up in Switzerland during World
War I, Stravinsky collaborated with his colleague and Swiss writer
Charles Ferninand Ramuz, whom he had recently met. Their collaboration
led to a theatrical production that includes Faustian elements as
well as characteristics of the Orpheum legend. The selling of the
soldier’s soul to the devil in exchange for wealth and knowledge
(Faust) and the tragic outcome of “looking back” (Orpheus).
The cast consists of three characters: The Man (Devil)/Narrator
played by Michael Burnham, The Soldier (Carl Nelson) and The Princess
The musical ensemble at the performance only consisted of seven
instrumentalists, including Scott Yoo as the violinist and conductor.
This performance of L’Histoire, although interesting to see
in its original format, seemed to lack the dramatic intensity of
the storyline. The symphony has received some criticism for including
the enhancements of the listening experience. Some have said that
the staging of symphonic and chamber works detracts from the music
itself. It looked as if the criticism was taken to heart with this
The acting and staging seemed to be subdued to a point where the
performers were just going through mechanical expressions of emotion
and conviction. Whether such mechanics were to be purely extraneous
as to keep out of the way of the music or simply another place where
the audience could rest its attention as to not have to actively
listen is rather unclear.
Nevertheless, the original work was designed to tell a story through
the means of music and acting. The marriage of the two forces was
unclear and unbalanced. The music itself was well-done and very
descriptive as to the story, but because of the lack of cohesiveness
on the part of those on stage, the actors seemed to be more of a
The most impressive performance of the night should be handed to
the guest conductor and violinist Yoo. The rendering of Bartók’s
piece was remarkable. Bartók’s music exemplifies the
raw and uninhibited sounds of the common man. This piece in particular
has streamed from Bartók’s head to paper to performance.
The last movement was full of raw energy, produced by a stereophonic
generator of strongly accented rhythms and exotic folk-like scales.
Yoo’s interpretation was exhilarating. He simply let the music
of Bartók take its natural shape while never missing a cue.
If the Utah Symphony had a Miller Lite player of the game, Yoo would
walk away with such an honor based on his charisma and skill.