Utah Symphony Utah Opera gets million-dollar gift

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Christmas came early to the Utah Symphony in the form of a $1 million grant. Philanthropist Spence Eccles made the donation.

It is much-needed funding. The musicians have taken more than one salary cut to keep the orchestra operating, and so have administrative employees. Though this doesn't bring them back to financial stability, it helps.

"We're thrilled to bring along a little surprise this morning, to make early payment of the first one-half of the million dollars," Eccles told Symphony members Wednesday. His statement was greeted by cheers and applause.

Speaking of a difficult economy, Eccles told the group, "We're in this together."

The surprise news brought hugs, tears of joy and memories. Eccles thought back to the symphony's founder, Maestro Maurice Abravanel, who fought to create a professional orchestra and dreamed of a performance hall, completed in 1979 and named for him.

Spencer F. Eccles, chairman and CEO of the Eccles Foundation, said, "I think the most important catalyst for us was the tremendous outpouring of support, across the board, from all the members of the symphony."

He was referring to the musicians returning 20 percent of their salaries -- $1.3 million -- this season. They call this donation exceptional.

Brant Bayless, who is the principal viola of the Utah Symphony, said, "It was a big, wonderful surprise to come into work this morning and hear the good news about the really super, generous gift."

David Porter, a violinist with the Utah Symphony, added, "I'm just thrilled. This is the sort of support we were hoping to get from the community by investing in our product."

Melia Tourangeau, president and CEO of the Utah Symphony Utah Opera said, "There have been others, so far, in the Leadership Challenge, but the Eccles Foundation gift is currently, by far, the largest."

Like bits of good news in a slowly-improving economy, the players said now there is hope.

Peter Margulies, of the trumpet section, said, "We've been hunkered down here for a few months, so everyone was really happy -- like a Christmas present."

The donation may represent a beginning, but the musicians and administration agree it is cause for celebration -- evident in the enthusiasm of Wednesday's rehearsal, which included "Deck the Halls."

The other half of the donation will come in time for the 2011 budget.

E-mail: cmikita@ksl.com

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