Saturday, June 27, 2009

On the Road: Bonneville Salt Flats, Salt Lake City (Summer 2009)

I passed into Utah this morning, from Nevada. Glad to see Nevada behind me. Having lunch (poor Mexican) in Salt Lake City, trying to get my bearings and deciding what to do here. On the way in, I took a quick detour to the Bonneville Salt Flats, which were very flat and very salty (yes, I tasted them). No signs of life anywhere. I passed the Great Salt Lake on the way in, and one of the city's airports.

I felt it wouldn't be right to pass through without seeing the Mormon Temple and the Mormon Tabernacle. Actually, I skipped going into the former, as it's not an especially attractive building. The Tabernacle is holy ground, however--not because of any religious associations, but because it is where some of my favorite recordings were made. It is here that Maurice Abravanel and the Utah Symphony recorded the Mahler symphonies. In particular, their recordings of the Third and Sixth Symphonies are priceless (on the Vanguard label, I believe). In fact, their recording of the Third Symphony is one of the greatest recordings I've ever heard.

The building itself is very plain--much plainer than I imagined it would be--a simple oval with very little adornment. The ceiling is white plaster. Because of the plain white dome and the shape of the building, looking up you'd think yourself in a hockey arena, but something about the place is magical when it comes to sound. I'm glad I took the trouble to go look at it. It has funny wooden columns painted to look like marble. According to one of the guides, the original organ had 2,000 pipes. A few more than 100 of these survive, but the current organ has 20,000 or some such fantastic figure. Seems excessive to me....

I also liked the dome on the old Utah Hotel, which has been converted into a Mormon administrative building. I love the old-fashioned beehive on top. There were a lot of daintily dressed women and conservatively dressed men about....

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