When it was announced last month that the Utah Arts Festival had commissioned a new symphonic work from University of Utah composer Henry Wolking, festival officials weren't in a position to talk too much about it. They are now, and the results make interesting listening.

According to Linda Bonar, the festival's executive director, the Wolking piece is the first of what is hoped will be a series of annual commissions."The idea," she says, "is to commission a Utah-based composer every year." Wolking, whose "Forests" will be premiered by the Utah Symphony at this year's festival, was picked because of his track record, which includes a number of national prizes and earlier Utah Symphony performances. The winning composer for 1992, however, will be selected by a jury that will include Utah Symphony music director Joseph Silverstein, Maurice Abravanel, Ardean Watts, Wolking and University of Minnesota composer Lloyd Ultan.

They will convene later this spring to consider pieces submitted by interested composers.

"It's the festival's 15th anniversary this year," Bonar notes, "and as part of that celebration we wanted to be able to do some commissioning." The Wolking piece, she explains, is one of four such projects, the others being art in public places, an environmental art piece and a special project of some kind that can change from year to year - "this year it will focus on a Company of Four dance piece to be performed inside the old Salt Lake Hardware building."

With the backing of Gastronomy Inc., the art-in-public-places commission - "a sculpture or mural, etc., to be given to the city to stay in the public domain" - has solicited proposals from five artists, from which a jury will select anywhere from three to five. These will then be displayed at the arts festival, giving festival patrons the final vote.

Similarly the environmental commission - "to address in artistic fashion the environment in which one finds oneself, in this instance a space on Fourth West between the U.P. depot and the viaduct" - will solicit proposals from three artists, one of which the jury will choose to be displayed at the festival.

Actually the environmental-art and special-projects commissions go back a few years, at least to the sand castles erected in 1984 by San Diego sculptor Norman Richard Kraus. Two years later came "Knock, Knock," a walk-through display by local artist Andy Krasnow, and a piece for Repertory Dance Theatre. But, according to Bonar, this is the first year for both music and art in public places. And, in the case of the music commission, to the tune of $5,000, the entire project being underwritten by US WEST.

"For a long time the festival has been striving to create a strong enough financial base to sponsor commissions on an annual basis, and I believe we're finally there. Eventually we would like to see that extended to new works by Utah artists in all media, maybe even including the literary community. Another thing I would like to do next year," she adds, "is lengthen the piece we commission. Henry's piece is about 10 minutes long, which is what we could afford based on the ASCAP book, but next year perhaps that can be extended to 20 minutes."

At present the festival's annual budget stands at $615,000, 80 percent of which comes from ticket sales and concession revenues. The remainder comes from grants from corporations, individuals, both the Utah and Salt Lake City arts councils and this year, for the first time, the National Endowment for the Arts. "That's an exciting one for me," Bonar says, "because it recognizes our festival as having nationally significant programming."

In recent years it has also had nationally significant attendance, topping 90,000 paid admissions last year. This year's edition, to run June 26-30 at the Triad Center, will kick off with the aforementioned Utah Symphony concert, with Silverstein conducting. The second step, Bonar says, is to "make sure the piece we have commissioned has a life of its own beyond the Utah Arts Festival." This year, for example, additional performances are set in Colorado Springs, with Christopher Wilkins conducting, and other Western states.

Composers wishing to be considered for 1992 are invited to submit biographical information, photocopies of scores and a cassette tape, not to exceed 15 minutes, of past work.

For information call 322-2428.