A few years ago in assessing local concert facilities, I said that, although a bit drab acoustically, when full Kingsbury Hall could be exciting.
It was exciting Tuesday.The occasion? The first of three 50th-anniversary concerts the Utah Symphony is presenting this week, this one 50 years to the day from the orchestra's first concert on May 8, 1940, also in Kingsbury.
At least I expect it was exciting for the 43 people University of Utah president Chase N. Peterson recognized in the audience, each of whom had been at that very first concert and was now at this. Ditto music director laureate Maurice Abravanel, who was likewise asked to stand and receive the plaudits of the crowd.
Recalling that the literal meaning of alma mater is "nourishing mother," Peterson praised the university as "a nourishing mother of the arts." He cited other local arts organizations that got their start on the U. campus, some in this very hall, and the influence of not only Abravanel but current music director Joseph Silverstein, "two adopted sons of Utah."
It also must have been exciting for the audience as a whole, many of whom were clearly wafted on a wave of nostalgia as the latter gave the downbeat. But it was more than nostalgia that carried this concert. There was also the program, more or less a replica of the original, and the performances.
Certainly it is a bigger orchestra Silverstein commands today than the one Hans Heniot led in 1940 - 84 vs. 52 players - something attested to by the stage extension needed to accommodate the current edition, and by the sheer volume of sound.
Symphony Hall may provide a more expansive acoustic, but again, when full, Kingsbury has an added punch. And Tuesday that was evident in nearly every selection.
Thus "The Moldau" (or "Vltava") from Smetana's "Ma Vlast" boasted a robust sound not only in the climaxes, here taken in stride, but also in the two flutes against pizzicato strings that open the piece. After which the peasants danced heartily and the spirits of the night shimmered on the surface as the river wound its way purposefully to the St. John Rapids and past Vysehrad, the old castle that sits on the hill above Prague.
Similarly Silverstein's direction of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 emphasized its strength and virility, from the introduction to the first movement, here weighty but thrusting, to the driving vigor of the finale. I doubt the 1940 edition was as heavy on repeats, but also doubt it came anywhere near this one for overall energy (including the firmly articulated Allegretto) and orchestral excellence.
I would also be surprised if, following intermission, those at the 1940 concert heard the same edition of Handel's "Water Music." What we got Tuesday was pretty much the F major Suite, minus the harpsichord, but replete with other baroque stylings more customary today than they were 50 years ago.
That meant, among other things, double-dotting in the Overture and some artful trilling (especially in the horns) where Handel would have expected it. And although I for one missed the harpsichord, Silverstein kept things moving, at least until the somewhat heavy concluding Hornpipe.
Ditto Sibelius' "Finlandia," which under his direction growled imposingly, from the low brass and timpani at the outset through the controlled surge of what followed, with a dignified stop at the famous hymn tune along the way.
After that came the "Emperor," perhaps the noblest of all the Strauss waltzes, in yet another repeat-laden performance that had the requisite Luftpausen and a fair amount of Viennese Schwung. Again I would be surprised if that's the way it sounded in 1940, and who knows what the prevailing style will be in another 50 years? Let's just hope this orchestra is still around to give it to us.
Concerts will also be presented Friday at 8:30 p.m. in Symphony Hall, with Silverstein and former British prime minister Edward Heath conducting, and 5:30 p.m. Saturday in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, an invitation-only youth concert. For information call 533-NOTE.