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Composer Devin Maxwell is one of the first two Utahns to have their works performed for the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera's Emerging Quartets & Composer's program. (Photos courtesy of the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera)
When Utah-based composers Devin Maxwell and Haruhito Miyagi heard they were selected to be part of the Utah Symphony Utah | Opera's Emerging Quartets & Composer's program, they knew it was something special.

This is the first time since the program was founded in 2003 that two Utah composers, have been selected to participate.

"It's really exciting that local composers have been selected to be a part of the program, because it shows how robust the community is here between the universities and colleges and the arts organizations, especially the Utah Symphony," Maxwell said. "It shows we can have two, or three or more great composers here in Utah."

"It is such an honor," Miyagi said. "The program gets applicants from all over the world, and I think it is just amazing."

Their works will be premiered during the Deer Valley Music Festival at a chamber concert that will be held at St. Mary's Catholic Church, 1505 W. White Pine Canyon Rd., on Thursday, Aug. 1.

The two men took time before and after rehearsals to speak with The Park Record about their opportunities to work with the Skyros and Battery String Quartets and Grammy Award-winning composer Joan Tower, who worked with the Muir Quartet to establish the program.

Devin Maxwell

Maxwell lives in Tollgate Canyon and is currently working on his Ph.D at the University of Utah.

The work he composed for the concert is titled "Bouquet Canyon, California."

"It was inspired by the canyon," Maxwell said. "I lived up the canyon when I worked on my masters degree at the California Institute of the Arts in 2000."

The piece will be performed at the concert by the Skyros Quartet that hails from Lincoln, Neb.

"I composed this for them," Maxwell explained. "Once I heard that I was accepted to the program, I looked the quartet up online and listened to them to get a feel of how they played."

Maxwell also knew some of the other works scheduled for the concert.

"I didn't know Haruhito's work, but since we are colleagues at the U., I am familiar with his style, so, I created a piece that would go well with them. I look at it as sort of like a wine pairing."

Maxwell received an undergraduate degree from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, where he worked for four years.

"After that I ended up in California at CalArts and worked with a Michael Pisaro and Morton Subotnick," he said. "Now I'm a the U. working with another great faculty that includes Dr. Morris Rosenzweig, Dr. Stephen Rollins and Dr. Miguel Chuaqui."

Before enrolling at the U., Maxwell decided to specialize in composition.

"Between my time at CalArts and now, I founded a production company and stopped thinking about music to work on other things," he said. "When I looked back at all the things I've done — record production, performance, film and TV — I wanted to get back to writing songs for the concert stage."

Monday marked his first rehearsal with Joan Tower.

"She was able to help improve the performance of my piece as a piece in itself, because she looked at it and asked how we could perform it better to make the ideas I had more clear and strong," he said. "Everyone in the room was ready to work and the session had a focused and relaxed environment where wonderful things can happen.

Maxwell is grateful to the Utah Symphony Education program for continuing the Emerging Quartet & Composer's Program, and acknowledges a familiar refrain in his life.

"It's funny, because now that I'm back at school, albeit in the Ph.D program, I am able to return to music," he said. "I thought about where I am in life and realized I'm in graduate school, again, living up yet another canyon road."

Haruhito Miyagi

Miyagi was born into a musical family and raised in Lehi, and began playing piano at a very young age.

He received his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University and received his masters from the University of Notre Dame.

"I then went to study at the Debreceni Egyetem Conservatory of Music in Hungary and now I'm working on a Ph.D. at the University of Utah," he said.

Throughout his training, Miyagi learned to think of music in a direct, communicative way.

"I think music is similar to a language in that people can learn to recite poetry, but it is better to become a poet," he said. "I always knew that I could play a lot of other people's music, but I really wanted to become a person who could speak the language of music through my compositions."

The three-movement work that will be premiered on Thursday is called "Three Prominent Peaks for String Quartets" and was inspired by Mt. Olympus, Mt. Timpanogos and Mt. Nebo, Miyagi said.

"First off, Mount Olympus is right out the window from where I live now, and growing up in Lehi, I lived in the shadow of Mount Timpanogos," he said. "Mount Nebo is significant to me because it's the highest peak in Utah."

"I wanted to create something that not only represented grandeur, but also serenity that exists in the mountains here in Utah," he said. "I tried to capture that whole environment.

"For example, the first movement is about how the morning sun brightens the mountain and the finale, of course, represents the evening, with all the purples," he said.

Miyagi's work will be performed by Chicago's Battery String Quartet.

So, like Maxwell, Miyagi utilized the Internet.

"I looked the quartet up to research their strengths and composed the work that played to them," he said.

Miyagi said he enjoys rehearsing with Joan Tower.

"She is fantastic," he said. "She is such a big personality in the music world, and so, it has been wonderful to get to work with her.

"I imagine I will be able to share my experiences here with my future students," he said.

The Utah Symphony's Deer Valley Music Festival will continue on Thursday, Aug. 1 at St. Mary's Catholic Church, 1505 W. White Pine Canyon Rd., at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 and are available by visiting www.deervalleymusicfestival.org.