The composer is based in New York and that's where the first performance will be. But the symphony itself will bear the title "Utah" and is being funded by members of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Thus was the announcement made earlier this month that American composer John Duffy has been commissioned by the Utah Sierra Club to create a 25-minute symphonic work celebrating the natural wonders of southern Utah, with its five national parks. The premiere, to be performed by the Orchestra of St. Luke's, is to take place Nov. 29 in Avery Fisher Hall.According to chapter chair Gibbs Smith, the purpose of the commission is to "sensitize people all over the world to the aesthetic and spiritual beauty of the public domain of Utah and to try to build through that political support for its preservation." The group, Smith said, is particularly interested in enlisting support for the 5-million-acre wilderness bill Utah Democrat Wayne Owens recently introduced into Congress.
To that end, he said, following the premiere, the group hopes to get the work performed by Washington's National Symphony at a concert to which members of Congress would be invited. Closer to home, Smith said, he has also discussed with Utah Symphony music director Joseph Silverstein the possibility of a performance by that orchestra.
"He wants to read through the score first," Smith said of Silverstein, "but said he would like to perform it."
Smith said the $45,000 commission went to Duffy following a two-year search in which composers from all over the country were interviewed. "We considered some but didn't actually interview any Utah composers," he said. "Mainly we were looking for people who had the artistic ability to create a major work."
Duffy's credits include the music for the award-winning PBS series "Heritage: Civilization and the Jews" (for which he won an Emmy), the off-Broadway theater piece "Macbird," "The Gingerman," "Horseman," "Pass By" and "Playboy of the Western World." In addition he is president and director of the "Meet the Composer" program, which fosters the work of living American composers.
"Also, of all the people I talked to, he really wanted to do it," Smith said. "He said he felt like his whole life was a preparation to do this. He feels very strongly about the natural environment and the threat to the Earth's ecology." In fact he himself is a member of the Sierra Club.
Following Duffy's selection the composer visited southern Utah and, according to Smith, "was clearly moved by what he saw." Both a television documentary on that visit and a recording of the completed symphony are planned.
Smith added that despite support from the national Sierra Club, the project is being funded locally on a volunteer basis. "It is totally a Utah project," he said, adding that the group is still seeking contributions.
Interestingly, the local Sierra Club has yet another orchestral connection in that its Alaska issues coordinator, Christine Osborne, is a member of the bassoon section of the Utah Symphony.