One might not think so, but Salt Lake City has a connection to early music. Not in the same way as early music meccas Boston and Seattle have, but there definitely is a link.
Back in the mid-20th century, a huge cache of Antonio Vivaldi's music was discovered in a monastery in Europe. Languishing in obscurity at the time, this treasure trove of long forgotten works proved to be a godsend in reviving interest in Vivaldi's music and putting him in his rightful place alongside his contemporaries J.S. Bach and George Frideric Handel. In the 1940s, around the time these scores were unearthed, one of the major figures in resurrecting the Italian composer's music was Maurice Abravanel, the legendary music director of the Utah Symphony.
And what Abravanel helped start, the Vivaldi by Candlelight concerts, have been keeping Vivaldi's name in everyone's consciousness in Salt Lake City. Not as a continuation of what the late maestro had been involved in, since Abravanel was never connected to the annual concert, but as a way of promoting a worthy organization and helping it raise funds.
For the last 28 years, Vivaldi by Candlelight has benefited the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting global understanding and respect between the people of Utah and other nations. And for the past seven years, Utah Symphony associate concertmaster Gerald Elias has been its music director.
"It's a great organization and I'm honored to help them," he told the Deseret News.
This year's Vivaldi by Candlelight concert takes place on Dec. 18 at First Presbyterian Church.
Elias likes his job because he believes more baroque music should be played. "There is so much great music from this period, there should be more performances of it.
"I see the Vivaldi by Candlelight concerts as filling an important niche. And the holiday season is an appropriate time for this music, because we somehow naturally associate baroque music and the holidays, maybe because of Handel's 'Messiah.'"
Programming a concert like this can be difficult because of the sheer amount of music Vivaldi and his contemporaries wrote. But the old joke about Vivaldi writing one concerto 500 times just doesn't hold true, Elias said. "Some are pretty straightforward, but many are creative and have a lot going for them. There is a lot of variety in his music and the possibilities are unlimited."
The Sinfonia in C major, RV 111a, the opening work on the program, shows what Vivaldi was capable of. "The slow movement is like Verdi in a way," Elias said. "There is a lot of chromaticism and it's very dramatic. It's really a great piece."
The only other work by Vivaldi on the program is the Concerto for A minor for Cello, RV 420. "This is rarely done, but it's so beautiful." Meeka Quan-di Lorenzo, the former associate principal cellist of the Utah Symphony returns to Salt Lake City as the soloist.
"Meeka and I talked about doing a cello concerto," Elias said. "Vivaldi wrote quite a few concertos for cello and we decided on this one because I wanted something that would contrast with the other orchestral works on the program."
Other works that will be played are Georg Philipp Telemann's Concerto in D major for Horn, with Utah Symphony hornist Ronald Beitel, and Arcangelo Corelli's Concerto Grosso in C minor, op. 6, no. 3.
To round out the concert there'll be a set of four arias from Handel's opera "Giulio Cesare," with mezzo-soprano Stina Peterson Eberhardt. "I just love that opera, and I wanted to do some Handel on the program," Elias said. "One of the arias Stina will sing has a big horn solo, so Ron will have something else to play besides the concerto."
The Vivaldi Virtuosi ensemble, made up of colleagues from the symphony as well as area freelancers, will play under Elias' baton.
Elias enjoys the Vivaldi by Candlelight concerts not only because he gets to program an evening of music by baroque masters, but also because it gives him the opportunity to conduct. "I love to conduct. This is my number one conducting engagement, but I'd like to do more," he said.
At the end of the current season next May, Elias will have more free time to pursue other activities. After more than 20 years with the Utah Symphony as its associate concertmaster, Elias will be leaving the orchestra at the end of the 2010-11 season.
"With my time in the Boston Symphony I've been an orchestral musician for 35 years. I've had a very full career, but I enjoy doing other things, too." Among his other interests are conducting and composing — and writing mystery novels. He already has two mysteries published, "Devil'sTrill" and "Danse Macabre," which was released in September. And he has just sent the manuscript of his third novel to his publisher and is in the planning stages with a fourth.
If you go
What: Vivaldi by Candlelight
Where: First Presbyterian Church, South Temple at C Street
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 18
How much: $40 reserved seating