March 28, 2019
Utah Symphony and Utah Opera Commemorate 150th Anniversary of Transcontinental Railroad with Newly Commissioned Orchestral Work and Ten-Minute Operas, May 2019

Music Director Thierry Fischer conducts Zhou Tian’s Transcend, a Utah Symphony co-commission that pays tribute to the many immigrant workers who built the Transcontinental Railroad, May 17 and 18

Utah Opera premieres four Transcontinental Railroad-themed ten-minute operas in Brigham City (May 20), Ogden (May 21), and Salt Lake City (May 22)

Ceremony on May 10, 1869 for driving of Golden Spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, marking completion of First Transcontinental Railroad. At center, Samuel S. Montague, Central Pacific Railroad (center left), shakes hands with Grenville M. Dodge, Union Pacific Railroad (center right).

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH (March 27, 2019) – Utah Symphony and Utah Opera (USUO) unveil a series of creative projects to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike, the ceremonial final spike that joined the rails of America’s First Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah in 1869. After a concert with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on Friday, May 10 at 8:00 p.m.—exactly 150 years to the day since the railroad’s completion—USUO presents performances throughout the month of May that feature works newly composed to mark this anniversary. These events and many others are highlighted as part of Spike 150 (, a statewide effort to celebrate the Golden Spike.

USUO President and CEO Paul Meecham said:

“We are thrilled to be a cultural participant in the celebration of this landmark event 150 years ago, connecting the East and West of our great nation. It presents a timely opportunity to reflect on and express gratitude for the hardships experienced by the mostly immigrant workforce that constructed the railroad, and to pay homage to their own native cultures. Through new art it brings to life an historic moment in time that many Utahns and Americans may be unfamiliar with.”

Utah Symphony has co-commissioned a three-movement orchestral work, Transcend, from Grammy-nominated Chinese-born composer Zhou Tian. Music Director Thierry Fischer conducts Transcend at Abravanel Hall on Friday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 18 at 5:30 p.m. The concert program also includes Copland’s Appalachian Spring and Suite from Billy the Kid.The new workwas commissioned by a consortium of 14 orchestras along the path of the Transcontinental Railroad. The consortium was organized by the Reno Philharmonic, which gives the world premiere. 

Describing his inspiration for Transcend, Zhou Tian said:

“[The Transcontinental Railroad’s] cultural heritage includes the contribution of a thousands-strong Chinese and Irish workforce who toiled in severe weather and cruel working conditions. … As a Chinese-born composer who immigrated to this country … I was moved to create this new work to tell a musical story, to convey a sense of spiritual perseverance, and to pay tribute to my own cultural heritage.”

Utah Symphony’s co-commissioning of this work reflects Mr. Fischer’s commitment to new music for orchestra. During his tenure, the orchestra has commissioned and premiered works by Simon Holt, Michael Jarrell, Nico Muhly, Andrew Norman, and Augusta Read Thomas, among other composers. The commissions from the latter three were recorded and released as Dawn to Dust on Reference Recordings in spring 2016.

Utah Opera has commissioned a series of ten-minute operas on themes related to the Golden Spike. The four operas premiere in late May 2019 in Brigham City, Ogden, and Salt Lake City and will then be performed in community concerts and the company’s Random Acts of Opera over the next few seasons.

Utah Opera Artistic Director Christopher McBeth described the company’s commitment to supporting local talent:

“Utah Opera is pleased to support this historic event by creating opportunities for Utah artists to collaborate in the creation of new operatic works. These ten-minute operas showcase the convergence of local creatives who make contemporary opera relevant in telling very human stories that have shaped the fabric of our state and country. It is a powerful example of the storytelling, music, and art that constitute opera, and we are so happy to support its creation.”

The four commissioned operas are:

  • Completing the Picture, by composer Michael Ching and librettist / researcher / choreographer Victoria Panella Bourns. This opera fills in the larger picture of human involvement on the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Many men posed in the historic photograph above, but no Chinese are pictured. The opera will include depictions of the “Strange Parade” Westerners reported when the Chinese arrived, as well as the difficulty of their labor on the railroad.
  • The Stone, the Tree and the Bird, by composer Jacob Lee and librettist Christine McDonough. The work depicts a campfire conversation between three railworkers the night before the 1869 ceremony in Promontory, Utah. They dream and plan what they will do now that the historic job is done.
  • Burial by composer Tony Solitro and librettist Paisley Rekdal. The work centers on a confrontation between a town mayor and a café owner about how to appropriately bury and honor Chinese men who helped build the railroad. The opera explores themes of belonging and identity: Are the dead Chinese to be treated as Asian aliens or American workers?
  • No Ladies in the Lady’s Book by composer Lisa Despain and librettist Rachel Peters. This comic opera explores the often-overlooked contributions of women to the success of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Performances of all four operas take place on Monday, May 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the Brigham City Fine Arts Center (Brigham City, UT), Tuesday, May 21 at 7:30 p.m. at the Ogden Union Station (Ogden, UT), and Wednesday, May 22 at 7:30 p.m. at the Gallivan Center (Salt Lake City, UT).

The dramaturge and director for the Utah Opera ten-minute operas project is Israeli director Omer Ben Seadia. After working for the Israeli Opera for over a decade, she moved to the U.S. in 2012 and has produced performances at the Canadian Opera Company, Cincinnati Opera, Houston Grand Opera, and Philadelphia Orchestra, among other institutions. As dramaturge for this Utah Opera project, she has been involved with the operas as the creative teams have worked on them throughout the season. She consulted with them in December about storyline and character development; participated in a February 15 work session on drafts, with Utah Opera Resident Artists singing the roles; and after the final opera scores are submitted, she will also serve as Stage Director during the May 2019 production period.

The above projects are part of USUO’s annual Cultural Festival, which highlights a special theme each year in order to connect with the local community through music. For more information, visit

Utah Opera’s ten-minute operas project is made possible in part through grants from the McCarthey Family Foundation and Spike 150, a program of the State of Utah through the Department of Heritage and Arts.

About the Utah Symphony
Founded in 1940, the Utah Symphony performs more than 175 concerts each season and offers all Utahns access to world-class live performances of the world’s greatest music in the state’s top venues. Since being named the orchestra’s seventh Music Director in 2009, Thierry Fischer has attracted leading musicians and top soloists, refreshed programming, drawn increased audiences, and galvanized community support. In addition to numerous regional and domestic tours, including the Mighty 5® Tour of Utah’s national parks and last season’s Great American Road Trip, which also included Utah state parks and national monuments, the Utah Symphony has embarked on seven international tours—from Europe to Central and South America—and performed at Carnegie Hall in 2016 coinciding with the orchestra’s 75th anniversary celebrations.

The Utah Symphony has released more than 100 recordings, and the orchestra is in the midst of a Saint-Saëns recording cycle for Hyperion Records that will mark the first complete recording of the composer's symphonies by an American orchestra. Additional recent releases (on Reference Recordings) include Mahler’s Symphonies No. 1 and 8 (2015 and 2017, respectively) and Dawn to Dust (2016), which features three Utah Symphony-commissioned works by Nico Muhly, Andrew Norman, and Augusta Read Thomas. The orchestra’s discography with former Music Director Maurice Abravanel includes the first complete Mahler symphony cycle by an American orchestra, as well as premiere recordings of works by Honegger, Milhaud, Rorem, Satie, Schuman, and Varèse.

Utah Symphony | Utah Opera, the orchestra’s parent organization, reaches 450,000 residents in Utah and the Intermountain region, with educational outreach programs serving around 137,000 students annually. In addition to performances in its home in Salt Lake City, Abravanel Hall, and concerts throughout the state of Utah, the Utah Symphony participates in Utah Opera’s four annual productions at the Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre and presents the six-week Deer Valley® Music Festival each summer in Park City, Utah.

For more information, visit

About Utah Opera
Utah Opera, established by Glade Peterson in 1978, has been part of the Utah community for 40 years and engages audiences through inspiring operatic performances. The opera company presents four annual productions at the historic Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre and regularly partners with Utah Symphony and other organizations for special presentations. In addition to producing classic works from the operatic repertoire, Utah Opera also emphasizes the importance of contemporary American opera, with notable achievements including the 1996 world premiere of David Carlson’s Dreamkeepers and the co-commissioning and Western U.S. premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath in 2007, presenting the Western U.S. premiere of Jeremy Howard Beck and Stephanie Fleischmann’s The Long Walk in 2016, and the creation of a new production of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick in 2018 that featured a versatile set designed to adapt to a wide range of theater stages.

Utah Opera operates a full production studio where productions are rehearsed and costumes, props, and set pieces are designed, made, rented out, and stored. The opera currently has 19 full sets and costumes for 50 full productions in its inventory. Utah Opera also offers a Resident Artist Program, a nationally recognized young artist training program for professional singers and pianists who perform for more than 81,000 students each year free of charge through the organization’s education and outreach activities. The Utah Symphony has performed as part of the Opera’s productions since the company’s founding, and the two organizations merged in 2002.

Utah Opera’s current Artistic Director, Christopher McBeth, joined the company in the fall of 2000 and took over primary artistic leadership in 2003. Under his leadership, Utah Opera productions have received acclaim for introducing audiences to the next generation of fine singing actors. Mr. McBeth strives to provide distinguished quality productions that showcase emerging and established artists, celebrate traditional works, and champion the American operatic tradition.

For more information, visit

About the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera Education Department
The Education Department of Utah Symphony | Utah Opera creates and oversees opportunities in music for audiences of all ages, with special emphasis on musical experiences for K-12 students and teachers. As the largest performing arts organization in Utah, USUO promotes a broad public knowledge and appreciation of music through more than 30 state-assisted community outreach programs, amounting to more than 600 performances annually. USUO Education serves more than 7,000 teachers and 145,000 students each year throughout Utah by bringing both symphony and opera programs, free of charge, to every school district in Utah over a three- to five-year rotation.

For more information, visit or call (801) 869-9091.

Season Sponsor for Utah Symphony | Utah Opera is the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation

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