Review: Utah Symphony at Red Butte


On Thursday evening, Red Butte was treated to a virtuoso performance of Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez by guitar maestro Pablo Villegas.

It was a strange night at Red Butte, where a small but enthusiastic crowd had plenty of space to spread out and crack open their picnic baskets. The lady next to me had brought what appeared to be a small banquet, served on compact table complete with a tablecloth. “Ok, where’s the vodka?” asked one of her group as she handed out the ringed cloth napkins—Red Butte definitely makes for better people watching than Abravanel Hall.

In contrast to their audience, the symphony orchestra were positively cramped for space on the Red Butte stage as associate conductor Rei Hotoda lead them through a performance of Dvorak’s classical overture to kick off proceedings.

The charismatic Pablo Villegas then made his entrance for his debut performance in Utah and spoke at length to the crowd about the music he was about to play and why it’s so important to him. He explained that the music is about a conversation between a man who has recently lost an infant and god, with the guitar representing the man and the response from god being channeled through the orchestra. Heavy stuff indeed and, to my right in preparation for this intense musical journal, more vodka was opened at the banqueting table.


Rei Hotoda told us that she considers the second movement of Aranjeuz’s 1939 masterpiece to be one of the most beautiful pieces of music she has ever conducted. It’s difficult to argue with that statement, as the performance by both Villegas and the orchestra was immaculate. The first and third movements are much lighter and draw on flamenco and folk influences, and Villegas was able to hold the audience in rapt attention. Although returning to the stage for two encores after the performance of Concierto de Aranjuez did seem like overkill, especially as the temperature had started to drop.

Once Hotoda was convinced that Villegas had finally and permanently exited the stage, an intermission was called. Although the already small crowd dwindled further as scores of folks headed out of the exit in response to the falling temperatures. The orchestra, now under patio heaters, reemerged post intermission to perform some Strauss, Smetana and Tchaikovsky.

The fairly sparse crowd was probably due to a combination of the cooler weather and the fairly expensive tickets. After all, there are biweekly opportunities to see the orchestra at Deer Valley. But overall a it was pleasant evening, despite the cooler weather later on.

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