Listening to the Utah Symphony Orchestra from a seat in Abravanel Hall is one thing. Listening to the Utah Symphony Orchestra from the stage is another. Salt Lake magazine sent writer Jen Hill to sit on stage while the orchestra rehearsed Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” Yes, that’s the one where the score calls for live cannons. But no writers were harmed in the research for this article: Hill wore earplugs and a kind horn player suggested she also use a plastic acoustic shield like many orchestra members use.

Meet the new guy

Conner Gray Covington begins his second season with the Utah Symphony as Associate Conductor backing up Conductor and Music Director Thierry Fischer.

Seated next to Second Bassoon, Jennifer Rhodes, Hill had the chance, not only to hear, but to observe: “I watched as musicians would stop to meticulously adjust their chairs or obsessively clear out the spit in their instruments. I kept watching all the non-verbal signals that would travel around the stage, a grimace from Conductor Conner Gray Covington after a misstep, a smile for the strings hitting their cue, rolled eyes above a clarinet at missed notes, nods and head shakes, winks and foot taps. It  all added up to a complicated camaraderie among the musicians and between them all and the conductor.”

Hill was also able to appreciate Covington’s main role. From the back of Abravanel it may just look like he’s waving his arms around; to the orchestra, he’s sending out all the cues, keeping precise tempo, thinking forward to the next line and who needs to be prompted at exactly the right moment and to what degree, and mostly, listening to the collected instruments as one giant, super instrument.

Covington explains, “Downplaying themselves, our musicians see themselves as one unit, which is one of the goals or intentions of a symphony orchestra.” All the while, he’s making mental notes on what needs to be addressed or adjusted and will bring to the to the musicians’ attention later.

“The material we perform now is the best we have ever created,” says Covington. “The Utah Symphony has a tremendous opportunity to create authentic human connections in an age inundated with electronics and social media.”

Whatever is going on up on stage, musicians at this level are having fun, in a very serious way.

80 Years The Utah Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 80th anniversary this spring. And members never forget that a concert is a conversation with an audience. Utah Symphony’s Associate Conductor Conner Covington (left) says, “It takes a long time to build trust with an audience, so you can venture off and offer more than just the standard bread and butter performances.” For its 80th Anniversary Gala on Saturday, May 16, 2020, at Abravanel Hall. The concert will include two original selections from the Utah Symphony’s inaugural 1940 concert: Johann Strauss, Jr.’s majestic “Emperor Waltzes” and “Moldau” from Smetana’s Má Vlast, as well as Beethoven’s Violin Concerto performed by Joshua Bell, one of the most celebrated violinists of this generation.

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