"It's a great thing to be a part of and an honor because three years ago, I became a citizen of the United States," Kulenovic told The Park Record. "It was a very profound experience rehearsing and conducting the 'Star-Spangled Banner.'"
Kulenovic is originally from the former Yugoslavia, which is now comprised of Slovenia, Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Croatia, the Federation of Bosnia and the Republic of Srpska due to the Yugoslav Wars
"I came from Yugoslavia, where my mother still lives, during a time which was not a great time in history, because there was war going on, and unfortunately during that time a lot of freedoms were taken away from the people."
As he programmed the symphony's program, Kulenovic reflected on his own experiences.
"The idea about being patriotic in the United States means you are also being patriotic about freedom, but I know how it feels to live in a country where you can love your country and love the people of your country, but have your freedoms denied," he said. "When that happens, your sense of patriotism is not united in the sense with your love for freedom, so being a United States citizen, the program is a great vehicle to enjoy the wonderful freedoms of life we have in this country."
The program itself is a collage of works that range from anthems, to classical and film works, Kulenovic said.
"The idea behind the program was to show that freedom does not come without a price," he said.
That's one of the reasons Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" is included.
"That piece has a profound meaning for me," Kulenovic said. "Copland wrote it in response to the U.S.'s entry into the Second World War, and we all know what that meant strategically, even though there were a lot of casualties like any war."
Kulenovic, a "die-hard pacifist," knows there are prices to pay in order to preserve freedom, because of his father who fought against the war in Yugoslavia.
"He was a composer, an artist and a university professor, and was one of the organizers of the main protest against the war," Kulenovic said. "He eventually got exiled because of his efforts in 1991 and 1992 and my family lost everything he had acquired throughout his life. We lost all the property that was in my father's name and our funds were confiscated, and that was our price we paid for his fight for freedom."
The symphony will also perform the "Armed Forces Suite," which features "The Caissons Song" (Army), "Sempre Paratus" (Coast Guard), "The Marine's Hymn," The U.S. Air Force Song ("Wild Blue Yonder") and "Anchors Aweigh" (Navy).
"We owe a lot to those who serve in the Armed Forces," Kulenovic said. "My grandparents. while not in the United States Armed Forces, were in the partisans that fought against the German troops in the forest during World War II."
Kulenovic's grandfather, who was a writer, was asked by the leader of the partisan forces to write a musical poem for the cause.
"The poem, which he wrote in 24 hours, was read to the partisan troops before the last battle against the German troops in 1944," Kulenovic said. "The partisans won that battle. "When we play the 'Armed Forces Salute,' I remember my grandparents, and I am so happy to see people who have served in the Armed Forces present in the audience so we can say thanks to them," he said.
From there, the symphony will perform the "Colonel Bogey March," by Kenneth J. Alford, who was British.
"We'll have a little competition because we'll play Alford and then play John Philip Sousa's 'Washington Post March' at the end of the concert. So the audience can vote to say who is better," Kulenovic said with a laugh.
Another interesting piece in the program is Handel's "La Réjouissance."
"It might be an odd choice at first glance, but fits," Kulenovic said. "It was commissioned by King George II for a fireworks show to celebrate the end of the War of the Austrian Succession, or, if you prefer, the beginning of the peace in 1749."
In addition to the songs celebrating patriotism, there are other pieces, while not written from a patriotic perspective, that do reflect that sentiment, he said.
They include Rogers & Hammerstein's "South Pacific Scenario" and Leonard Bernstein's Overture to "Candide" and three John Williams works, "Olympic Fanfare and Theme" of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics," "Star Wars" and "Raider's March."
"The 'South Pacific Scenario' is my first-ever Broadway tune to conduct," Kulenovic said. "And 'Star Wars' is my personal favorite, because the film was the first movie I ever saw in a theatre. My grandpa took me to it."
While Kulenovic programmed the concert, he said it would not be the same if it weren't for the dedication of the Utah Symphony musicians.
"They are my musical family right now and feel a tremendous gratitude to their commitment and the level of excellence we are able to achieve, and it's a great honor to perform these specific pieces with them," he said.
The Utah Symphony, conducted by Vladimir Kulenovic, will present its annual Patriot Celebration concert at the Snow Park Amphitheater to start the Deer Valley Music Festival on Saturday, July 7, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $25 to $65, with student tickets costing $10. Tickets can be purchased by calling (801) 533-NOTE or online at www.usuo.org .