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New York • Thunderous applause rang out at Carnegie Hall on Friday as patrons rose to their feet in celebration of the Utah Symphony's performance at the storied venue.
Fifty years after Maurice Abravanel first brought the company to the New York stage, the orchestra returned, playing four pieces that filled the ornate hall with colorful harmonies.
One of 15 full-time symphonies in the country, the Utah orchestra set out to show its chops at the venue considered on par with Vienna's Musikverein and Tokyo's Opera City Concert Hall. It had been 41 years since the Utah Symphony had played the hall that Andrew Carnegie built.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert lauded the performance as an education to East Coasters who may not imagine such elegance arriving from a less metropolitan region.
"I don't think there's any question when we have people on the East look at people on the West, particularly the Intermountain West, they think of the wild and woolly cowboy days," Herbert said. "And to have the sophistication of a symphony, an opera and a ballet is kind of foreign to their thinking. So we're here to disprove that today [and show] one of the great symphonies of America is from Utah."
Another notable attendee said it was perfectly fitting for the Utah Symphony to play Manhattan.
"I think Utah has a superb symphony, and that's recognized throughout the country and throughout various parts of the world," said former Republican presidential nominee and now Utahn Mitt Romney. "And wherever it plays, it's recognized as one of the premier symphonies in the world."
Romney sat in the parquet section with his wife, Ann, and longtime friend Kem Gardner.
Music director Thierry Fischer delighted the crowd, guiding the orchestra through three classic pieces and a new offering that featured famed percussionist Colin Currie.
The symphony opened with Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 96 in D Major, "The Miracle," performed with most musicians standing the entire 21-minute set. The audience rewarded them with sustained applause.
After a brief break, the orchestra returned, this time with chairs, to play "Switch," a piece it commissioned from Andrew Norman. After the jarring start of the piece, which startled some audience members, Currie bounded onstage to a playground of drums and cymbals and gongs. Bouncing between instruments, Currie found fans in the New York crowd. "Bravo," a few audience members called out at the end. "Bravo."
The symphony rounded out the performance with selections from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" and Bartók's Suite from "The Miraculous Mandarin," Op. 19.
Fred Schmidt, a symphony fan from nearby Summer, N.J., applauded the Utah company and rose to his feet with his fellow patrons.
"Fabulous," Schmidt said when asked about the performance. "Very good. Fantastic."
Fischer, who has played as a flutist at Carnegie previously but was conducting first time at the hall, said pressure to play there was actually a positive, driving the musicians to perform at their very best. To be at Carnegie Hall shows the importance of the company.
"It means millions of things and especially one: a huge honor and a great pleasure," Fischer said, noting the performance caps the group's 75th anniversary season. "This is not an end. This is just, we hope, one step reflecting what we have been working so hard for the last five seasons."
The orchestra's principal trumpeter, Travis Peterson, was beaming when talking about the honor of playing at Carnegie.
His parents, Phil and Bobbi Peterson, flew in from Minnesota for the performance, their first trip to New York.
"It's kind of an exciting thing for us to be playing on a world stage like Carnegie Hall in a place like New York City, so it's not just the Utah folks that will hear us," Peterson said.
The chance to play at the venerable hall was especially poignant for violinist LoiAnne Eyring, who took the stage for the fourth time. Her first appearance was with Abravanel in 1966.
She said the memory of the group's longtime director – and namesake of its Salt Lake City concert venue – was on the forethought of the company's minds Friday night.
"Being back here 50 years later, I'd like to think he's looking down on all of us and we certainly are remembering him and his legacy," she said. "I would think he's smiling, saying, 'Look what came of it.' "