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Ardean Walton Watts — former associate conductor for the Utah Symphony and University of Utah music professor — has died, his family said Saturday. He was 89.

Watts, a longtime pianist, died Friday surrounded by his family after suffering complications from heart failure, his daughter Mitzi Watts Busath said.

"Ardean Watts' influence will continue to flow through the hearts, minds and actions of his wife, and growing family which now rivals the number of keys on his keyboard," the family said in a statement. "Ardean brought to our notice everything from the microscopic wonder of mushroom spores to the grandeur of Mahler's Resurrection Symphony."

Services are pending.

Watts was born in Kanosh in 1928 and was raised in Idaho. He returned to Utah for college, earning a degree in music theory from Brigham Young University in 1952. He also served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New England. He married Elna Brown of Bear Lake, settling in Salt Lake City. The couple had eight children.

Maurice Abravanel, the symphony's conductor for more than 30 years, hired Watts as a pianist in the 1950s, a job he kept for 22 years. Near the halfway point in his tenure, Watts became an associate conductor, serving in that capacity for 11 years.

Abravanel and Watts were dear friends who for years spent each Sunday morning talking while Elna Watts attended church, Carolyn Abravanel said.

"It was a very special love affair between he and Maurice," she said. "I hope there is a heaven and, if there is, that Maurice is welcoming him and probably yelling, 'Bravo!' "

Abravanel said her husband, who died in 1993, mentored and depended on Watts during their years together at the symphony.

Watts was a loyal friend who had an animated personality, was a great storyteller and became a "musician in full spades," Abravanel said.

"I am going to miss him," she said, her voice cracking with emotion.

For more than three decades, Watts was a professor in the University of Utah's music school, where he "taught virtually every class offered, instructing generations of students," a department website says. He developed three courses in the use of electronic synthesizers and one on "electronic music and modern culture." He twice received the university's distinguished teaching award and chaired the ballet department for five years, a news release from the Utah Symphony says.

In a statement Saturday, Utah Symphony and Utah Opera President and CEO Paul Meecham expressed sadness over Watts' passing, noting that he helped shape the classic music landscape in Salt Lake City for decades.

"His passion for not only the orchestra but for ballet and opera made him a fixture on the performing arts scene," Meecham said. "He left a lasting legacy on the arts in Utah. We will miss his warm presence and enthusiasm at our concerts from his favorite perch in the second tier."

Watts was the founder of the University of Utah Opera Company and, for 13 years, was its artistic director, producer and conductor, a news release from the symphony states.

For 20 years, Watts played a role in producing full-scale operas in the U.'s football stadium with the Utah Symphony and the theater department.

Watts will be missed by Utah's community of mycologists. A mushroom expert who founded the Mushroom Society of Utah, Watts was renowned for his knowledge of various species, founding club member Don Johnston said. Watts was a prominent figure in the club's annual late-August foray, sitting patiently for hours at a table with a microscope and reference books, helping club members identify their bounty.

"That's one of the things he enjoyed about mushrooming," said Johnston, who called Watts strong willed and gregarious. "He loved people and had many, many friends."

Some Salt Lake City-area residents may remember Watts as the unofficial greeter at the City Creek Center mall. In 2012, when City Creek opened, Watts took to sitting on a shady bench near the stream that runs through the mall, greeting shoppers and trying to engage them in conversation.

"Little kids are good. They'll come up and break the ice sometimes," Watts told The Salt Lake Tribune in a 2012 story, adding that he had adopted a Taoist approach to the exercise. "If it doesn't happen naturally, forget it."

Watts also served Utah's arts and outdoors communities through much of his life. He served on the board of Hawkwatch International and was the music director and principal conductor for the Ballet West orchestra from 1966 to 1984.