A Night Alone at the Utah Symphony


Abravanel Hall (Photo Courtesy of utahsymphony.org)

By Luke Jackson


By no stretch of the imagination would I call myself a connoisseur of the symphony. I’ve been a handful of times, mostly at the forceful hand of my sweet mother; but if they weren’t playing the orchestrated scores of Star Wars, Spiderman or Snoop Dogg, I was never really present.

This was my uncultured reality until the eve of Sept. 25. On that blessed and fortuned night I found myself sitting alone in the upper right tier of Abravanel Hall raring to take in the Utah Symphony’s Masterwork Series “Stravinsky & Rachmaninoff.”

I have long contemplated how to translate this benevolent soundscape of a night into words. My pondering has led me to realize that the only appropriate way to do so would be to briefly share the thoughts and feelings I experienced during each of the movements. The following words will be the experienced ones of an amateur symphony fan. May they be as kind to your eyes as the music was to my ears.

The Fairy’s Kiss – Igor Stravinsky

The conductor walked onto the stage gracefully, he floated really, dressed in all black. Soon the first chair violinist joined him. Applause from the audience, then silence as we begin.

Quickly, it dawns on me how strange watching classical music being played is. With no traditional and concrete narrative there isn’t really anything to watch. There are no actors on stage telling a story, but a group of talented men and women with different pieces of brass and wood. As I listen my mind begins to wander, led by the music of Stravinsky through different feelings and memories.

I find myself completely surrounded by the sound, intoxicated. As the pace of the string section picks up my heart rate races to match it. The horns sounds and it is clear danger is near then suddenly, it was calm again.

Back and forth the strings and horns trade blows. Chaos is organized as the instruments sing, gasp and cry together. Before I know it the last long note of a violin plays, my heart wrenches — it can’t be. It is over. The orchestra bows and exits for a brief intermission. I check my watch; somehow an hour has passed.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – Paul Dukas

The program has the second movement slot saved for Witold Lutosławski’s “Variations on a Theme of Paganini.” We are informed that Lutosławski’s been booted for Dukas. At first I’m slightly disappointed to be going off schedule, but then I realize: “I know this one.”

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice!” This little ditty is notably featured in Walt Disney’s “Fantasia.” In the film, the classic visual of Mickey enchanting broomsticks and buckets with the help of a magic hat accompanies the tune. There are no visuals tonight, but I am enchanted just the same.

As the familiar six note musical motif begins to play smiles of recognition wipe across the audience. Dukas drops it harder than Skrillex, Diplo and Major Lazer combined. The orchestra and audience sway in unison to the quirky and catchy tune. So much comedy is present in the soft use of the French horns and the awkward pauses and half notes. I find myself stifling laugher in an effort to not embarrass myself.

As it ends, my heart breaks a little bit. Too quickly it leaves us; but we’ll all be humming its tune tonight.

Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 – Sergei Rachmaninoff

A concert grand piano joins the fray. It’s placed gently at center stage behind the conductor, commanding our focus. George Li, our pianist for the evening, enters and melds with the piano. Once he sits, he is no longer a man at an instrument, they become the same being.

“Tickling the ivories” is not the right phrase. The way Li slides and bounces off the keys is astonishing. It is not a tickle, but a waltz between two lovers. I know it sounds stupid, but I have no other way to describe it.

With the piano at the helm the orchestra is marched through a warzone. Once again, I find myself entranced. I’m not sure where the piano is leading me, but I will march with it anywhere. We reach our destination too quickly, it’s a bittersweet victory. The night is over, and we are once again left with silence.

While there were hundreds of others in attendance that night, it might as well have just been me and the orchestra.


The Utah Symphony returns on Nov. 2. I recommend you get your tickets today.


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