Salt Lake's beloved Abravanel Hall is in the crosshairs of downtown development. | Urban Living
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Salt Lake's beloved Abravanel Hall is in the crosshairs of downtown development.

Urban Living



I'll admit it right off—I'm a band geek. I started with the violin, then upright bass, then percussion, brass and finally French horn. In high school I was chosen to be in the American Youth Symphony and toured Europe one summer with the group and then I played in the Westminster College symphony until a bunch of wise guys sitting behind me in rehearsals kept playing jazz riffs and screwing up practices and well, it pissed me off, so I quit.

Those riffs came from Albert Wing, later known as the band Blind Mellon Chitlin—and I was a Luddite when it came to jazz music. Funny how, so many years later, I love jazz but still have my heart in classical music.

Our Utah Symphony was created in 1940 and is known as one of America's major orchestras, touring all over the globe and winning massive awards. There are roughly 85 full time musicians, and they knock it out of the park in over 175 public concerts each year.

What you might not know is that the group only became recognized as a quality ensemble because of one Marice Abravanel, the music director/conductor from 1947 to 1979. During his tenure, they made more than 100 recordings and provided educational classes to thousands of groups. For more than 30 years, our Symphony performed at the Mormon Tabernacle downtown until the opening of Symphony Hall.

The Board of the Utah Symphony worked with Abravanel, Jack Gallivan (then-Salt Lake Tribune publisher) and O.C. Tanner (professor of philosophy, philanthropist and founder of O.C. Tanner) to raise money and design what is known as Abravanel Hall. Designed by local award-winning architects FFKR and owned by Salt Lake County, it was designed in a rectangular shape, like some of the greatest concert halls in the world (Vienna, Amsterdam, Boston).

Cello and bass players were encouraged to make holes in the stage floor for their endpins so the sounds they made would resonate through the wooden floors. Inside there are convex surfaces on the walls and ceilings and no 90-degree angles because of their effect on sound.

I remember how an expert who helped design the acoustics for the Kennedy Center in NYC came and "played" the walls with padded drumsticks to ensure the best sounds possible in the venue. In 2002, during the Olympics, a red glass tower from Dale Chihuly was displayed and then purchased for our state through our Salt Lake Organizing Committee, which raised $625,000 to pay for it.

Fast forward to the past few weeks and we have learned that the Smith Entertainment Group bought Arizona's NHL team and will bring it here. The Smiths want to create a "sports, entertainment, culture and convention district" downtown, which could lead to changes at Abravanel Hall or even a full rebuild of the venue.