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May 2015
Utah's Art Magazine: Published by Artists of Utah
Page 5    

Utopia Early Music
Early Music Utopia . . . from page 1

The specifics of the term “early music” may or may not be familiar to audiences. It usually refers to music composed before 1750. Concert programs today, whether orchestra, chamber, or choral, usually consist of music composed subsequent to that. Today’s cultural centers offer a wide variety of sounds from the late Baroque, Classical, and Romantic music eras. This more familiar music is sandwiched between the often-neglected early music and “New Music”. Therein lies the well-known “canon” represented by Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and even Stravinsky, whose Rite of Spring is now over 100 years old – still considered by many contemporary listeners as “modern.”

It is less often, in those same cultural centers, that audiences have the chance to supplement their musical diet with works by early composers such as Mauchaut, Dufay, Dowland, Legrenzzi, Rigatti, Hildegarde von Bingen, and Barbara Stozzi. Utopia has shared music by all of these composers and it’s important to note that many compositions from these early periods were written anonymously. Obscure, but enduring, they have lasted and offer us a rare look into the sensibilities of people who lived up to a thousand years ago. Baritone Michael Chipman points out that “Chris LeCluyse has often remarked in rehearsals that what we are doing when we come together to sing and play as a group of musicians is actually the only way people were able to hear or experience music at all for hundreds of years.”  Chipman has high praise for the two founders of the ensemble. “I have loved performing with Utopia. Chris and Emily have a very clear aesthetic of intimacy, nuance and transparency, and they bring together like-minded musicians to re-create music written hundreds of years ago with that same aesthetic…There is something special about one voice, one part, especially in the rich harmonic world of [the] Renaissance.”

In order to “bring this music to life,” as LeCluyse says, he and Nelson meet prior to each four-program concert series to create and shape their concerts. The music not only spans centuries, but the globe as well. They have performed music from the European continent, Ireland, Nova Scotia and during one concert they focused on music of Colonial America. Nelson says that as they put their heads together they “start with concepts for the shows [sometimes they have holiday themes, or it could be music from a specific part of the world, or a time period, or some combination of those things], and from there, we decide whom we want to hire.” She qualifies that by saying, “Sometimes our process goes the other way around; we wanted to do something with Aubrey and Alex Wood again [violinists], and so we devised our May concert based on what we wanted to hear them play.” LeCluyse puts it this way, “We follow a ’stone soup‘ approach to concert planning: everyone brings an ingredient, and the result is often greater than the sum of its parts.”

LeCluyse (tenor) and Nelson (soprano) perform in every concert. In addition to singers, the earliest music includes instruments such as the Gothic harp, vielle, lute, viola da gamba, recorder, theorbo and Baroque guitar. These and more are all featured in Utopia concerts. They collaborate with other local musicians and sometimes guests from out of state. Utopia focuses on Medieval and Renaissance music, but occasionally they enjoy juxtaposing music from later periods to draw comparisons and contrasts. Just this past season they presented “mash up” concerts in which music of Brahms and P.D.Q. Bach were added to the mix.

Local music critic Ed Reichel calls Utopia concerts “infectious and captivating.” He also points out that they have “found a way to make early music fun.” Perhaps this is because audiences might be treated to one concert focused on “Vlad the Impaler”, the 15th century Romanian prince (on whom Bram Stoker based his Dracula), or another entitled “My Bonny Lass She Smelleth.” There is plenty of fun to be had, but other concerts will offer gentle, poignant, and inspiring music created by people with nothing but a few instruments and their voices to express themselves. LeCluyse recalls special occasions when they’ve truly nailed a moving and expressing number. “The audience will just sit there in silence for a few seconds before clapping. Once I heard a muffled ‘Whoa.’" 

Nelson and LeCluyse look forward to the future and are thrilled about their growing and diverse audiences. “Naturally, we attract folks who like to attend classical music events, but it seems like that demographic is branching out a little. Sometimes we draw listeners who are interested in hearing a specific musician or style of music, too,” Nelson explains. Besides presenting the concerts that compose their season, LeCluyse adds, “We also have increasingly offered additional performances, either around one of our main series concerts or during the summer.”  Moreover, at some time he hopes to take Utopia on the road and perform at early music festivals.

Utopia’s founders are proud of their efforts and wish to show lovers of music how “accessible this music is – perhaps even more than the traditional classical repertoire” and to introduce people to “dynamite musicians … who play beautifully on instruments that you just don't get to hear anywhere else in the city.” They have faithful regular audience members – “hipsters alongside retirees,” but they are always eager to introduce themselves to new listeners. Chipman, having performed with Utopia on many occasions, would be the first to encourage people to attend a concert. “Utopia keeps the brilliant music of the Renaissance and Medieval periods alive and well, and I am grateful for their passion for their music and for letting me be a consistent part of their music-making.”

Audiences have one more opportunity to enjoy a Utopia concert this season. The final performance, “Poignant Pleasures: Music of the French Baroque,” features Alex and Aubrey Woods, violins; John Lenti, theorbo; and Eleanor Christman Cox, Baroque cello. In this program, Utopia and a skilled complement of strings will present music of Marais, Charpentier, Campra and other masters of the je ne sais quois. LeCluyse and Nelson, having given the programming their usual care and research, will focus on French Baroque composers’ “good fight” to resist Italian influence, only to later succumb after Lully, the leader of their charge, dies, having struck his own foot with a conducting staff resulting in gangrene and its subsequent complications. 

Art Professional Spotlight: St. George
Putting the Work in Artwork
Sears Gallery's Kathy Cieslewicz

“There’s no artwork without work,” says Kathy Cieslewicz, curator of the Sears Art Museum at Dixie State University (DSU) and a devoted advocate for the advancement of Utah’s arts. “It’s my job, but it’s also my life,” she says.

Cieslewicz’s career as an art educator began in the basement of her family’s Riverton home, where she taught oil painting to small classes. She later set up shop at the old Fairview Elementary School in Sanpete County. The floor was warped, the ceiling dangerously close to crumbling down, and she would have to shovel a path to the door for students during the winter. Still, she stuck it out.

Born and raised in Provo, Cieslewicz eventually settled in southern Utah with her husband, Paul, and their seven children, after bouncing around Salt Lake and Sanpete counties. She went back to school at DSU (then called Dixie State College of Utah) and eventually earned an art degree from Southern Utah University.

Cieslewicz says that she was nearly written off the day she interviewed for the curator position at Sears. She had rushed in from a ceramics class still covered in clay. “I was a mess,” she says. “But they knew I had a lot of knowledge, and a lot of knowledge about the art that was on campus and in some of the collections.”

With Cieslewicz at the helm since the summer of 2004, the museum’s permanent collection has been significantly expanded, along with its presence in the regional art scene. Sears hosts six exhibits each year, in addition to the Sears Dixie Invitational Art Show and Sale on Presidents’ Day weekend. This year, the popular event showcased 125 artists and 230 works.

Cieslewicz has been instrumental in developing The Business of Art, an annual weekend symposium in Kanab, where she serves as director and a presenter. The conference is intended to provide artists with the resources and know-how to help them sustain a career in the arts. Nearly 150 emerging and established talents, most from Utah, attended last fall.

Cieslewicz also created Women Out West: Professional Artists of Utah as a forum for female artists to make connections and create art. In partnership with the Thunderbird Foundation for the Arts, the group holds a retreat each summer in Mount Carmel. She is compiling images and anecdotes from these trips for a future book.

She continues to teach a variety of subjects, including art history, drawing, oils, watercolor, and 2D design, at Arizona’s Mohave Community College, where she joined the staff in 2006.


An accomplished artist in her own right, Cieslewicz works primarily with oils, pastels, and watercolors, but also enjoys the social aspect of printmaking. The St. George Art Museum has commissioned her to produce three different installations, and she designed the sculpture garden just north of the Eccles Fine Arts Center on the DSU campus in downtown St. George. She holds a slew of honors and awards, and her work has been displayed at the Springville Art Museum and in galleries in New York and throughout Utah.

“My life has always been about art,” she says. “I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t either making art, helping people to make art, or being involved in art in some way.”
Her office and home are filled with pieces from her students, artists she studied under, and many others with whom she has worked over the years. “I’m surrounded by artists who inspire me on a daily basis,” she says. “All artists inspire me. I love artists, and I think they’re the most important and amazing people on Earth. Creativity is our humanity.” 

Most of Cieslewicz’s work takes place behind the scenes, but she will be recognized with the Governor’s Leadership in the Arts Award on Thursday, May 7, during the Mountain West Arts Conference in West Valley City. Each year, four recipients are honored for organizational, educational, local, and individual accomplishments; she was nominated in the latter category. The awards are administered by the Utah Division of Arts & Museums. Cieslewicz says that when she received the news, she had to take a few minutes to “figure out what it really meant.” She is familiar with the work of past recipients, among them A. Scott Anderson, Teri Orr, Wally Bloss, and Shirley Ririe, and says she can’t believe that her name will soon be mentioned in the same breath.

“I’m just so humbled that I’m being recognized for the work that I do,” she says. “I also feel like it comes with a great responsibility, and I acknowledge that as well. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing to the best of my ability and helping people, whether it’s our students and art department, the people that come to Sears, or the people in our art community—I’m working to help develop and support all of it.”

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