Does Utah Need the Utah Symphony?
Yes, I'm blogging again already. Wonders never cease. You see, music matters to me, which is why I couldn't leave this article in the Trib about the Utah Symphony without a comment.
Does Utah need the Utah Symphony? No. There are many of us who liked having a world-class symphony here when we had one, but if we aren't going for that level, we aren't really interested. And Utah's history of aiming for that level is not good.
Back in the 1980s I had season tickets every year. Silverstein was in charge and presented exciting interpretations of exciting music. We attracted top-flight soloists and ensembles. The house was full for every performance, and not just with Federal Heights Olde Phartes; there were plenty of us 20- and 30-somethings there, too. It was a scene.
Things had not always been thus. Ten years earlier, the concerts in the Tabernacle had been events strictly for the tasteless and the dead. Maurice Abravanel had arrived with his repertoire in 1947, with both he and the repertoire fully embalmed. They remained, perfectly preserved, for 32 years. We rarely heard anything earlier than Beethoven, other than Handel's Mess for the annual Xmas orgy. We never heard anything later than Mahler, other than the occasional commissioned piece that always sounded like a Mahler knock-off. Abravanel took the Arthur Fiedler road to market the Symphony, making an endless string of pop recordings for a mass audience to familiarize the brand name. And it was all about as interesting as watching paint dry. Even his mindless gyrations at the podium became dull long before he finally stepped down.
And the yokels here loved him. Thought he was a god. Still do. He's their idea of the way things are supposed to be. It's a chronic problem around here; people deify any artistic hack that looks their way. Typical small town attitude. We're the ugly girl at the dance who melts with pure infatuation when the BMOC comes over and barfs behind our chair. It was our chair he tossed his guts behind! How totally awesome!
(Please don't get me started on the local infatuation with Ueber-Hack Glade Peterson and how everyone here thinks he was such a great talent and such a great representative of "The Church." Because I might be compelled to point out that they didn't let him into The Met until he was 47, and that after that he promptly retired from real performances and ran home to found the Utah Opera, and that he had a habit of chasing every skirt in the chorus. Oops.)
Finally, though, Abravanel got wheeled off like Dr. Strangelove, and Kojian took over. A new hall, one with acoustics that weren't akin to a missile silo. A repertoire for grown-ups, not for people who only wanted to hear pieces with themes that had been ripped off for pop tunes. Greatly improved musicianship, as the fossilized hacks whose chairs had been sinecures under Abravanel were broken in rank or booted altogether. Things looked really good. Then Kojian banged one of the musicians. Only in Utah would this get a conductor fired, but this was Utah.
As luck would have it, though, the powers brought in Silverstein, and he kept right on charging down the same road. And the joint was rockin', kiddies.
But eventually it came time for Silverstein to retire, and the powers reverted to their natural, Abravanelesque proclivities. They hired Keith "Gilderoy" Lockhart, who is about as deep as a tea saucer, and the concerts were once again slick, pop twaddle that slid off your mind before you even walked out of the concert hall. And attendance plummeted as anyone with an ear lost interest. And no one did a thing about it. Oh, the powers fretted endlessly about lost revenue but professed total ignorance about the source of the problem. In other words, the "response" was the usual Utah crap.
And so, inevitably, here we are. Times are hard, the Symphony is broke, and too few care. Hiring Thierry Fischer was a good step, but he now conducts three symphonies, and this is by far the weakest of the three. When it comes down to it, and it will, where will his focus be?
Does Utah need the Utah Symphony? Not if this is all it's going to be. It's just stealing scarce resources from artists who actually want to amount to something.