For 15 seasons, Joseph Silverstein was the Utah Symphony's music director. And even now, a decade after he stepped down from the post, he still remembers his time in the Beehive State with fondness.

"My years in Salt Lake were rewarding for me," he said in a phone interview from his home in Stockbridge, Mass."I was with a great orchestra and we played in a great hall."

Silverstein will be returning to the podium in Abravanel Hall to close out the symphony's season this weekend. On tap is a wonderfully varied and dynamic program — Beethoven's "Egmont" Overture and Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 will bookend the Utah premiere of Christopher Rouse's 1992 Trombone Concerto. The symphony's principal trombone, Larry Zalkind, will be the soloist.

During his tenure with the Utah Symphony, Silverstein programmed contemporary music regularly. Not only because he believed in it, but also because he wanted to continue Maurice Abravanel's legacy."It was a tradition of Mr. Abravanel, who conducted a certain amount of 20th century music," Silverstein said."And it's important to broaden the horizon of the musicians and the audience."

Since its premiere by the New York Philharmonic in December 1992, Rouse's concerto has received only a few performances, Silverstein said. "It's not performed that much because it's a very, very difficult piece, not only for the soloist but also for the orchestra," a statement with which Zalkind readily concurs. "It's really the heaviest work for trombone ever written," Zalkind said in a phone interview. "I think he really utilizes the stylistic and dynamic ranges of the instrument well. Rouse wanted to write a 'work of substance,' and it certainly can be considered a major piece that will stand the test of time."

Rouse was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic in 1990 to write a work for the orchestra's principal trombone, Joseph Alessi. Leonard Bernstein was to conduct the premiere. However, Bernstein died later that year, and the work became a memorial to him. "The last movement is really a tribute to Bernstein," Zalkind said. In this movement, Rouse quotes the "Credo" theme from Bernstein's "Kaddish" Symphony. "The 'Kaddish' is the Jewish prayer for the dead," Zalkind said. "He (Rouse) gives you clues to the theme in the second movement, and in the finale there's a full-blown quotation, and the work ends with that theme."

It was Leonard Slatkin who conducted the premiere in New York. "Slatkin, who has conducted a lot of new music, said that it was one of the hardest pieces he's ever conducted, especially the second movement," Zalkind said. "That movement is really something. There are so many crazy rhythmic things going on, and you can also pick out some Bernstein things. It's really a very complex piece of music."

This will be Zalkind's first time playing the work, and he admitted that it's the most challenging piece he's ever had to play. "I would not have chosen this concerto at all, except for the fact that the International Trombone Festival will be taking place in Salt Lake City that week. The organizers wanted a major and profound 20th century concerto, and they were talking about this piece specifically."

Zalkind will be playing a new type of trombone for this weekend's concerts. The instrument, manufactured by Yamaha, is still in the prototype stage. It looks like a typical symphony tenor trombone, Zalkind said, except for the bell and the taper, which are a little bigger than on a conventional trombone. And despite the small difference in size, the sound remains the same. "I've worked with Yamaha for three years to help develop a new trombone," Zalkind said. "This is their sixth prototype and I predict it will be a big seller when it's ready to be marketed."

The principal trombone of the Utah Symphony since 1981, Zalkind is looking forward to collaborating with Silverstein once again. "It will be great to see him again," he said. And the admiration is mutual. "Larry is a super player," Silverstein said. "He is an incredible virtuoso on his instrument, and I am fortunate that I was asked to conduct this concert."

IF YOU GO

What: Utah Symphony, Larry Zalkind, trombone, Joseph Silverstein, conductor

Where: Abravanel Hall

When: Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m.

How much: $12-$48

Phone: 355-2787 or 888-451-2787

Web: utahsymphony.org

Also: Finishing Touches, Abravanel Hall, Friday, 10 a.m., $18 adults, $12 senior citizens, $4 students


E-mail: ereichel@desnews.com