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Utah Symphony Conductor to Speak at USU's 131st Commencement

Friday, Mar. 30, 2018

Thierry Fischer, conductor and music director for the Utah Symphony

Thierry Fischer, conductor and music director for the Utah Symphony

Thierry Fischer, Conductor and Music Director of the Utah Symphony, will serve as Utah State University’s commencement speaker for its 131st graduation ceremony May 5 at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in Logan. Fischer will also receive an honorary doctorate during the ceremony.  Three other prominent individuals will also receive honorary doctorates.

“We are honored that Maestro Fischer has accepted our invitation to address our graduating students this year as we celebrate ‘The Year of the Arts’,” said USU President Noelle Cockett. “Captivating musicians, audiences and critics alike, Maestro Fischer is deeply committed to his orchestra whom he has placed on a steady upward trajectory. His ability to attract younger audiences through his use of fresh musical repertoire is intriguing and will resonate with our graduating class of 2018.”

Fischer will receive an honorary doctorate along with Bartell C. Jensen, former USU vice president for research and former president of the USU Research Foundation and Space Dynamics Laboratory; John Welch, founding partner of Los Angeles, California-based law firm Latham and Watkins; and Gail Sorenson Williamsen, founder of the Elizabeth Academy in Salt Lake, an innovative and fully-inclusive Montessori school. 

Cockett said honorary degrees are one of the most important ways the university has to recognize people for the commitment and sacrifices they have made to instill positive changes in the world.

“All of these individuals have contributed in a number of ways and in a number of fields, but all of them deserve honor for their passion and determination to serve others,” she said.

THIERRY FISCHER (Commencement Speaker and Honorary Doctorate Recipient)

Thierry Fischer, Music Director of the Utah Symphony Orchestra since 2009, has led the orchestra in annual single composer cycles including Mahler, Ives, Tchaikovsky, St. Saens and Nielsen, has toured to Utah’s five national parks, and forged Utah Symphony outreach links in Haiti.  In celebration of the orchestra’s 75th anniversary season in 2016, the orchestra appeared at Carnegie Hall to critical acclaim and released an album of newly commissioned works by Nico Muhly, Andrew Norman, and Augusta Read Thomas on Reference Recordings.  Other recordings include Mahler Symphony No. 1 and Mahler Symphony No. 8, the latter with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. His vision for the orchestra extends through the 2021-22 season.
Maestro Fisher has served as Chief Conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, The Ulster Orchestra, Nagoya Philharmonic and is currently Principal Conductor of the Seoul Philharmonic. In America he has conducted the Boston, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Detroit Symphonies, the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra (New York), and in Europe the London Philharmonic, BBC Symphony, Oslo Philharmonic,  Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra to name a few. Now embarked on a recording cycle of the works of Camille Saint Saëns with the Utah Symphony, his recordings with other orchestras include works  Honegger, d’Indy, Florent  Schmitt,  Stravinsky and Frank Martin’s opera Der Sturm , the latter having won the International Classical Music Award in 2012 (opera category). In 2014 he released a Beethoven disc with the London Philharmonic on the Aparte label.
Mr. Fischer’s conducting career began with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe where he was Principal Flute under Claudio Abbado, his mentor.

BARTELL C. JENSEN (Honorary Doctorate Recipient)

Jensen’s long history at Utah State University began for him as a student. After graduating with a bachelor’s in economics in 1959, he left USU and went on to earn a doctorate from Purdue University in 1965. Jensen later returned to USU as a professor of economics with a specialty in the application of mathematical formulations in relation to economics. 

In 1976, Jensen was appointed as associate vice president of research at USU and, later, as vice president for research, a position he served in until 1994. In this role, he conceived and implemented USU’s Research Park, today known as the Innovation Campus. 

During his tenure as vice president for research, Jensen concurrently served as president for the USU Research Foundation and its Space Dynamics Laboratory from 1987-96.

JOHN WELCH (Honorary Doctorate Recipient)

Welch was a founding partner of the Los Angeles, California-based law firm Latham and Watkins where he served as a member of the litigation department until his retirement in 1990. As USU alum, Welch graduated as class valedictorian in 1941. He went on to earn a bachelor of laws degree from Harvard University in 1948.

As an Aggie, Welch endows three scholarships at USU, one in the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, one in the Caine College of the Arts and one in the Political Science Department in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. 

Well into his 90s, Welch is an avid skier, hiker and golfer.

GAIL SORENSON WILLIAMSEN (Honorary Doctorate Recipient)

Williamsen is a champion of educational programs that use inclusive practices to foster life-long learning, independence and self-determination in individuals with disabilities. In honor for her daughter, Lauren Elizabeth, who has Down Syndrome, Williamsen, along with her husband Thom, founded the Elizabeth Academy in 2008 to benefit not only Lauren, but hundreds of other children. The Elizabeth Academy is an innovative and fully-inclusive Montessori program for ages 3 to 6 designed to meet the needs of children at a variety of developmental levels, including those with special needs. 

With funding provided by the Sorenson Legacy Foundation, a charitable organization founded by Williamsen’s parents James LeVoy and Beverly Taylor Sorenson, Williamsen founded Elizabeth Academy so that Lauren, and other young children like her, would have more opportunities to flourish.

As a firm believer in life-long learning, with a passion for great art, music, and literature, Williamsen is a great supporter of Utah State University and its Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services. At the university, she has provided funding for research examining best practices in early childhood education, as well as for Aggies Elevated, an innovative residential college program for students with intellectual disabilities.

For more information on USU’s 131st Commencement, visit the commencement website.

Contact: Maren Aller, 435-797-1355

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