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The Utah Symphony celebrates its 50th anniversary this week in full enjoyment of an international reputation, high standards of musicianship, year-round programming, full-time, professional musicians and a number of national recording awards. It is beautifully housed in its own majestic Symphony Hall.

At its half-century mark, the orchestra occupies a key part of the community's cultural life and contributes mightily to the area's prestigious reputation for artistic attainment. The symphony deserves high praise for what it has done and what it has become.The symphony's achievements are a far cry from the humble beginnings in May 1940, when the first concerts were held in Kingsbury Hall on the University of Utah campus. Later, it wandered from temporary hall to temporary hall.

The orchestra was led at first by Hans Henoit and briefly by Werner Janssen. Maurice Abravanel took the baton in 1947, just after the orchestra began performing in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, which it called home for more than 30 years until moving into the new Symphony Hall in 1979.

The symphony exists today because of the sacrifices of dedicated early musicians and the brilliant leadership of Abravanel. Together they sometimes went without a paycheck to keep the orchestra going.

Not content to perform only in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, Abravanel took the symphony on the road, playing in high school auditoriums and other halls all over the state. In the process he helped make the Utah Symphony name a realistic reflection of the orchestra. It really was a Utah institution, not just for Salt Lake Valley.

That kind of hard work and dedication made the Abravanel name a household word and helped foster the public support to keep the orchestra going, as well as raising the musical taste and experience of thousands of youngsters.

Abravanel not only toured with the symphony and made the players his family and the orchestra his life, but he also demanded increasingly better performance. Eventually, the symphony became recognized as one of the finest in the nation.

When Abravenal retired in 1979 after 32 years as maestro, it marked the end of a special era. But under the baton of the current leader, Joseph Silverstein, the symphony has continued to grow and improve.

Despite its solid reputation, its glittering Symphony Hall and its $6.6 million budget, the orchestra cannot rest quietly on its laurels. Like other symphonies around the country, gathering the necessary financial support remains a constant struggle.

Yet, looking back over what has been accomplished in the past 50 years, the challenges ahead can hardly be considered insurmountable. With proper public support, the coming years should see the Utah Symphony continue to be a sparkling jewel in the state's cultural crown.