David Rodeback's Blog

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Friday, November 25, 2005
A Splendid Evening of Music in American Fork

Tonight was the most satisfying evening of music I have experienced within the city limits of American Fork. (I'm not counting private affairs, such as when my brother-in-law, the extraordinary pianist, comes to dinner.) It eclipsed even those routinely breathtaking concerts by the American Fork High School bands, under John Miller. Tonight's event was entitled "Thanksgiving With Music," and the venue was the somewhat-refurbished Apollo Hall. Almost 200 attended. The object of the event was to raise funds for and awareness of the Harrington School Foundation's project of turning the old, unused Harrington School into a center for the arts.

The first part of the program featured local high school talent, but don't get the idea that it was mediocre. American Fork High School students Jonathan Keith, a noteworthy young pianist; Karlie Rhodes, a talented soprano; and Becca Williams, who plays the French horn superbly, delighted the audience with Liszt, Gounod, Strauss, and others. Williams was joined for one number by her older sister, Nicole, who is principal oboist for the University of Utah's symphony orchestra. The quality of all these performances was quite high, even judged against the elevated standard we all seem to use for music at AFHS, which has spoiled us for years.

The second part of the program featured, in separate numbers, the local Quintessential Quintet and two of Utah Regional Ballet's principal artists, Christine Schwaner and Alexandre Silva. The string quintet was excellent, and I found the dancers particularly impressive in a pas de deux from Don Quixote.

Some minutes of talk about the Harrington project followed, from the mouth of its owner, Dr. Carl Bell. He was articulate and charming, and overall certainly helped his cause. But he might also have kicked up a little dust politically by announcing that he intends to ask the City for half of the needed funding (more than $30,000) for some initial design work. It's debatable whether the City even can give funds legally to this sort of private interest. But it's very likely, I think, that the City Council won't agree to it even if it is legally and they somehow have the funds. But I doubt it's necessary, anyway. If a multi-million dollar project is viable, it can raise a few tens of thousands of dollars up front. I think it is viable, if managed well. There are some important things the City could do during a season of tight budgets, without giving actual money; the Harrington Foundation should ask the City to do those -- partly because they will help, and partly because the City's participation will give the project added credibility with potential donors.

The final part of the program was best of all, and intermittently stunning. It began with violinist Serena McKinney, who rew up in American Fork and is a product of the New England Conservatory. She played some Mozart very well on her 18th century violin. Then Stephanie Rhodes, a former American Forker who is nearing graduation at Utah State University, played some impressive Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and Liszt. I heard Rhodes perform two years ago; she was good then, and she's a lot better now. The one rather jarring note in the program followed: The reigning Miss Utah, Ogden's Julia Bachison, sang two short Broadway-type numbers. Her voice is fine, and maybe there's a (very small) place for recorded accompaniment instead of live accompaniment, but the sound guy had the accompaniment far too loud for the singer's voice or the audience's comfort.

The final piece of the evening deserved and received a standing ovation: Serena McKinney's dazzling rendition of Sarasate's "Carmen Fantasy." I have heard Ithzak Perlman, Midori, and others in live recital (in New York, not American Fork). I suppose McKinney isn't quite that good at this point in her career. Very few have ever been that good. But she really is splendid. American Fork would be very fortunate to hear more of her in the future.

I don't know how much money was raised on the spot tonight; I am not privy to that information. But tonight probably accomplished three other important things which will affect the project's success. It began the project's public promotion by the project itself, not relying on newspaper reports or political candidates. It was the most impressive exhibit I have seen of American Fork's local musical talent, which helps to make the case that such talent deserves a good and serviceable home here. And it gave about 200 of the people who are most interested in the arts in American Fork a memorable and impressive taste of the city's and downtown's possible future as a local artistic center. The last of these is particularly exciting, now that the vision has something real, recent, relevant, and particularly impressive (tonight's performances) on which to rest.

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