As a musician who utilizes Abravanel Hall and a leader in the arts community, I must express alarm at the swiftness of apparent decision-making regarding the fate of our cherished and valued concert venue. Before continuing, I must admit I am also a hockey fan and was thrilled to hear of the NHL team relocating here. Bravo for that accomplishment. I am also a musician, orchestra conductor, professor and attendee of events at Abravanel Hall, a venue that has come under great scrutiny concerning the establishment of a new entertainment corridor in downtown Salt Lake City.

Regarding the quality and usage of this concert space, I speak from experience as both a performer and a concert attendee. I have had the pleasure of conducting and performing from the Abravanel Hall stage. I’ve directed performances from that stage of the Salt Lake Symphony, Choral Arts Society, Sinfonia Salt Lake, Utah All-State High School Orchestra and several other events. I’ve also had the honor of playing from the ranks as a substitute player with the Utah Symphony. So, I know what I say when I write that few large halls in the United States rival the acoustics, ambiance and overall experience offered by Abravanel Hall.

When I relocated here 22 years ago, one of the many draws for me was this venue, a shining example of the community’s commitment to the arts. Today, it remains a magnet for attracting quality university faculty, business leaders, families and artists to our community.

Interestingly, and as you may know, as our country developed, newly founded communities felt that two things were required for the good of their citizens. First was the establishment of libraries to disseminate knowledge and literacy. Not far behind was the establishment of musical organizations and places for them to perform. The American West was filled with communities that established everything from outdoor gazebos to lavish opera houses for that purpose. As towns grew into larger cities in the 19th and 20th centuries, the establishment of full symphony orchestras became the metric for a thriving population and economy. The great halls like Boston’s Symphony Hall, Cleveland’s Severance Hall and Cincinnati’s Music Hall are but a few examples of music centers that predate Abravanel Hall, all supporting major professional orchestras, all being cultural beacons for their communities. In my estimation, Abravanel Hall ranks in the same league as those facilities and is one of the finest built in the 20th century.

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I’ve made a career of preserving and presenting great works of art from the past (symphonies, string quartets, operas, etc.). Our cultural heritage is on display every time a concert takes place. But what is often forgotten is that the space itself is also a work of art. Art begets art. Just walking into the building is a cultural legacy worth remembering. Many of my friends and colleagues indeed play on that stage weekly, so perhaps they are better voices to address specific building issues. I’ve no doubt that any building needs proper maintenance and occasional renovation. This is a given with the thousands of people who use the building each week. I would expect no less concern for aging sports venues, libraries and government buildings.

As a professor of music, I have the pleasure of seeing our alumni transition to professional careers, some of them performing on the Abravanel Hall stage every week. Current students of all ages can hear live music, attend rehearsals and see soloists of the highest caliber performing in an acoustical environment that is unparalleled in the West. And the educational mission of the Utah Symphony must not be undervalued, reaching children and adults alike. All of this is with the overlay of Abravanel Hall as the home of the Utah Symphony.

A great symphony orchestra deserves a great hall. Its history is important. Its legacy is important. A sense of place is important. Abravanel Hall is important to our city and the wider community. I urge Mayor Jenny Wilson, Mayor Erin Mendenhall and the Smith Entertainment Group to listen to their constituents who speak to the magnitude of legacy and the heritage of the arts as they consider plans for further developing the downtown corridor.

Robert Baldwin is a professor and director of orchestras and conducting at the University of Utah and the Music Director and Conductor for the Salt Lake Symphony.

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