When we caught up with Conner Gray Covington, he was in Philadelphia visiting his fiancee, who is in medical school there.
And, he was doing a bit of studying himself.
Covington was in the midst of going through and marking up Patrick Doyle’s musical score for “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” which he’ll be conducting at Abravanel Hall next weekend. The Utah Symphony will play the film score “live to picture,” as the movie shows on the screen behind the orchestra.
“It’s really cool, and a completely different way to experience these films,” said Covington, the associate conductor with the Utah Symphony.
The music that accompanies movies is crucial, adding so much to the emotional impact of a film, according to Covington. For example, he says, consider the fanfare of brass instruments accompanying the “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” words scrolling across the screen at the beginning of the “Star Wars” films.
“Think about just watching those opening words going across the screen in silence,” Covington said. “It just doesn’t have the same effect.”
But before next weekend’s “Harry Potter” film concert, Covington and the Utah Symphony will be at the Kenley Amphitheater in Layton on Monday night for a concert put on by the Davis Arts Council. And what will the orchestra be performing? None other than pieces by the composer John Williams, creator of that famous “Star Wars” theme.
The Layton concert will feature Williams’ music “almost exclusively,” Covington says, with the exception of a couple of other pieces he threw in. It will include works from some of his more famous films — like “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” “Jaws,” “Jurassic Park” “Schindler’s List” and “Harry Potter” — but it will also includes lesser-known Williams music from films like “The Witches of Eastwick” and “Hook.” (The latter is “One of my favorite movies growing up,” Covington confesses.)
Covington can’t say enough about the composer’s body of work.
“He’s undoubtedly the greatest film composer — and one of the greatest composers of the last 100 years, period,” Covington said. “He has that unique ability, like a great opera composer, to be able to use music to convey the inner thoughts of characters that aren’t said out loud. There might be a weird look on a character’s face, but once you hear the music you know exactly what they’re thinking.”
Covington said Williams’ music is also extremely difficult to play.
“Our job is to make it look easy, but it is a bit of an illusion,” he admitted.
The 31-year-old conductor is just finishing up his second season with the Utah Symphony, and he was recently named principal conductor for the orchestra’s popular Deer Valley Music Festival in Park City. He’ll be conducting about half of that festival’s 18 performances this summer.
“One of the reasons the Utah Symphony has gotten so busy in the summer is because of Deer Valley — which in my view is one of the greatest places to listen to orchestral music,” Covington said.
And being the associate conductor with the orchestra, Covington is kept quite busy between all the education, pops and film concerts he conducts with the symphony.
“They see me more than any other conductor,” he said. “By the end of the summer I think I will have done close to 100 concerts.”
Also on Monday’s program in Layton will be Tchaikovsky’s popular “1812 Overture,” complete with cannons. Covington calls the piece an American tradition.
“It’s associated with July 4th, but it’s also just a summer tradition to play this piece,” he said. “Which is kind of funny, because Tchaikovsky actually wrote it to celebrate the Russians defeating Napoleon.”
Still, Covington said the audience seems to love it, year after year. Even if Tchaikovsky didn’t.
“Tchaikovsky didn’t really like the piece,” Covington said. “Every now and then a composer writes something that he doesn’t like. Such as ‘Bolero.’ Ravel hated that piece. But it was out of his control.”
Covington believes it’s misleading to label pieces by movie composers like John Williams “more accessible” than the other works an orchestra might play. Still, that perception persists.
“Our job is to let people know that Beethoven is just as accessible as John Williams,” he said.
Covington insists that very nearly everything the symphony does is accessible.
“I think the reason that we listen to Beethoven and Bach and Mozart still today is the same reason we read Shakespeare 400 years later,” he said. “They’re timeless human themes and works of art that span centuries and generations. And most of what we do falls into that category.”
Covington called concerts like the upcoming outdoor performance in Layton “crucial work.” This summer the Utah Symphony will have additional concerts in Taylorsville, Lehi, West Valley City and the Gallivan Center in Salt Lake City, to name a few. He says it’s important for the Utah Symphony to get out each summer and perform these sorts of concerts around the state.
“We as orchestral musicians can’t always expect people to come to us,” Covington said. “Sometimes we have to get out of our own regular hall — which we love, Abravanel Hall, it’s a beautiful place — but sometimes it’s important to get out and meet people in their communities.”