Nearly 75 years ago the Utah Symphony formed. Approximately four decades later the Utah Opera was founded. In 2002, the two entities converged into a powerhouse arts program that produces approximately 100 performances a year. To accomplish such a feat, US&O employs 85 musicians, 60 staff members, a two-tier program of Opera Ensemble Artists (five apprentices, six studio level), an 80-member Utah Opera Chorus and a 120-member Utah Symphony Chorus. And under the symphony umbrella, among many talents, is Principal Pops Conductor Gerald “Jerry” Steichen, a worldly man and renowned artist.
Steichen, who recently celebrated his 47th birthday, grew up in a small town in Oklahoma — his high school graduating class peaked at “50 and a half … you know, the pregnant girl.” He comes from a large musical family: “Daddy was a high school band director, and all six of us (Catholic … not Mormon, LOL) played piano or organ — at least one musical instrument in Band.”
From the age of 5 and on, Steichen learned to play a number of instruments including the piano, bassoon, clarinet, saxophone and, to his own criticism, the oboe badly. He attended Northern Oklahoma College, where he received an associate degree in Accounting. “I was planning to be an international tax attorney,” he admits. But that dream of all dreams changed; he enrolled at Oklahoma City University where he “really learned the craft of making theatre” — from being on stage to conducting and re-orchestrating to music directing.
“I spent a year as the first music director of the Tulsa Opera Studio, introducing opera to young people around Oklahoma,” Steichen says. “And I really fell in love with opera.
I decided after undergraduate school that I needed to move someplace bigger, to learn more about opera — and my other passion — chamber music. I had to choose between New England Conservatory and the University of Southern California.”
He ended up in Los Angeles studying with Gwendolyn Koldofsky, “the ‘dean’ of accompanists.” And his choice appears to have been the right one because after only a year at USC, Steichen accepted an apprenticeship at the prestigious Melora Program in San Francisco where he did learn more about opera. He eventually returned to USC and received a Master’s in Accompanying.
His diverse career has taken him from Miami as the Artistic Administrator for the Greater Miami Opera Association (now Florida Grand Opera) to New York City as a member of the Metropolitan Opera, and a 10-year conducting stint with the New York City Opera to teaching back in his hometown.
“I took a little break after five years of being on-the-road, and moved back to Li’l Ole Tonkawa to teach at Northern Oklahoma College,” says Steichen. “I taught choir, beginning theory, private piano and musical theatre. I had an amazing, exhausting year. Teachers earn every cent!”
He has been Maestro for many stage productions, such as The Mikado, La Boheme and CATS, has had the honor of doing three Broadway tours: Peter Pan with Cathy Rigby; The Secret Garden and The Phantom of the Opera.
“My first strictly symphonic conducting was at SUNY-Purchase (college) leading their student orchestra,” says Steichen. “That led — in an unusual twist of happenstance — to my engagement with the New Haven Symphony, where I still serve as the Pops conductor.” “I am also currently the Music Director of the Ridgefield Symphony (Connecticut) and now, as you know, the Principal Pops conductor of the Utah Symphony.”
“I love coming to Utah; skiing in the winter, biking and running in the summer, swimming! The great restaurants, the natural beauty of the state. And the warmth and generosity of the people and the orchestra has been overwhelming. I really feel like part of the community. And I have made many wonderful friends here. It feels like home when I’m here.”
Below is a list of the 30-plus symphonic performances currently scheduled through May 2011, as well as the four operas. Steichen conducts four of the five concerts that I think will appeal most to the LGBT community, if not just because Steichen happens to be conductor: The Duke Ellington Orchestra, Oz with Orchestra (David Cho conducts), Holiday Celebration with Jerry!, Bravo Broadway: the Wicked Divas! and ABBA–The Music.
Opening Weekend: Beethoven & Brahms
The Duke Ellington Orchestra
Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto
Musique d’énergie Inaugural Gala Celebration
Salute to Youth
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
The Haunted Symphony
Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1
Riders in the Sky
Romeo and Juliet
Oz with Orchestra
Bruckner Symphony No. 9
Saint–Saëns Cello Concerto No. 1
Holiday Celebration with Jerry!
The Polar Express with the Utah Symphony
Blue Planet Live!
Barber’s Violin Concerto
Stravinsky’s Pulcinella (conducted by Keith Lockhart)
Debussy’s La Mer
Bartók Concerto for Orchestra
Bravo Broadway: the Wicked Divas!
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Robert and Clara Schumann
Peter and the Wolf
Mozart Symphony No. 40
Also Sprach Zarathustra
A Child of Our Time
Classical Countdown with Big Buddah
ABBA – The Music
Saint–Saëns “Organ Symphony”
2010 All–Star Evening
The Rite of Spring
Hansel & Gretel