SALT LAKE CITY — After four years of dedicating his talents to the Utah Symphony, associate conductor Vladimir Kulenovic will be conducting his final performance with the symphony Aug. 5 at the Deer Valley Music Festival in Park City.
Reflecting on his time with the Utah Symphony, Kulenovic said in an email the most wonderful aspect of working with the symphony has been “the continuity of fresh passion and tireless commitment” from the musicians.
“The fruitful environment for growth is one where everyone grows together,” he said. “I always remember the words of my mentor through my education years, Kurt Masur, who said, at age 84, that learning is his highest pleasure. The best thing I kept learning and confirming during this time is that we never get old if we continue learning. We only get wiser and become better human beings and musicians.”
He said he will continue his work both as a guest conductor and in two ongoing positions: resident conductor of Serbia’s Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra and music director of Illinois’ Lake Forest Symphony.
Kulenovic has been nationally recognized numerous times as a promising young conductor by the Solti Foundation U.S., which supports professional growth of American conductors with financial grants and conducting opportunities. This year, Kulenovic won the foundation's highest honor, the Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award, which came with his being named a Solti Conducting Fellow and receiving a $25,000 grant.
“A feather in the Utah Symphony’s cap and the state of Utah’s cap is that one of our own, one of the full staff conductors, he received the honor this year,” said Toby Tolokan, vice president of symphony artistic planning for the Utah Symphony. “We are honored to have had him here for four years and to have benefitted from his great enthusiasm.”
Renee Huang, director of public relations for the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera, said Kulenovic has been the “face of the education department.”
A major responsibility of the associate conductor is to bring concerts to student audiences throughout the state and at Abravanel Hall, and Kulenovic has led the orchestra in concerts reaching 155,000 students each year.
“One of the major successes that he had here was working with our education department people, who were very collaborative and able to come up with programs, which are not only what music will play in the concerts but (also) the specific narration, which takes a lot of work,” Tolokan said.
One program Kulenovic developed was for a famous ballet about three puppets, called “Petrushka.” He included illustrations of the story by projecting slides onto a screen behind the orchestra. Fifth-grade students, many of whom were at the concerts, drew the illustrations.
“Not only are the students seeing and hearing a concert by the Utah Symphony, they get to actually see their own peer group being involved by the displayed drawn illustrations that went along with the music,” Tolokan said. “In some cases, there were hundreds of them. They were consistently moving on through the program. That’s the kind of innovative stuff (Kulenovic) has done.”
Tolokan said Kulenovic has worked with hundreds of talented young student musicians. He said the Salt Lake area has many youth orchestras, which help with the Utah Symphony’s mission of creating opportunities for youths.
“Every September, we have something called Salute to Youth where there are sometimes as many as eight to 10 different young high school to early college-age students who audition in the summer to play a movement of a concerto with the Utah Symphony,” Tolokan said. “That’s a concert (Kulenovic) always conducts.”
In addition to Salute to Youth is the All-Star Evening concert in May, which also involves high school students. In this concert, a professional musician from the Utah Symphony sits side by side, sharing a music stand, with a young high school student. These students are also involved in the rehearsals and are mentored before the performance.
Kulenovic has been the perfect conductor for the job, Tolokan said, because he knows how to motivate both the symphony musicians and the students.
“The enthusiasm that he is able to give to young audiences is really great,” Tolokan said. “We always received really positive comments from the parents, students and teachers about their experiences playing in ensembles. It’s a really positive program.”
Though his time with the Utah Symphony is drawing to a close, Kulenovic said he hopes to continue his emphasis on education throughout his career.
“I am inseparably committed to music, and I only hope to achieve a great career as a vehicle for introducing to audiences the profound messages of music that is created for us all,” Kulenovic said. “One of the most valuable passions instilled in me through my work at the Utah Symphony and Opera is the dedication to education concerts. I hope to have the opportunity to continue that for the rest of my life.”
Taking over for Kulenovic for a scheduled three-year tenure is Rei Hotoda, the Utah Symphony’s first female associate conductor.
More information about Kulenovic and his work can be found at vladimirkulenovic.com.
If you go ...
What: "Mendelssohn, Bruch & Haydn," Utah Symphony
When: Aug. 5, 8 p.m.
Where: St. Mary's Church, 1505 White Pine Canyon Road, Park City
How much: $34, $10 for children and youths 18 and under with ID; prices increase by $5 on the day of the performance