Gladys Knight, Utah Symphony and Deer Valley take a well-deserved bow
The Utah Symphony picked a perfect program for the finale of its fifth season of outdoor summer concerts in Deer Valley.
Conductor David Cho warmed up the large audience by opening with Johannes Brahms’ Hungarian Dances No. 6. The lively familiar melodies paired well with a wide array of picnic fare as veteran mountain concert goers settled in with their wine and gourmet appetizers.
The second piece, "The Moldau" by Bedrich Smetana, Cho explained, had been chosen to depict the musicians’ sentiments about performing at the Snow Park amphitheater. Written as a tone poem about a beautiful forest, Cho said, "It is very appropriate for Deer Valley, which is heaven for us."
Transitioning from classical to popular, in preparation for the evening’s guest artist, the orchestra played two Gershwin compositions: a medley of songs from "Porgy and Bess" and the overture to "Girl Crazy." According to Cho, the later was selected by Knight "to pep things up."
Of course, once Knight and her band took center stage, the pep was not lacking. She pledged to take audiences on a "musical journey" including the classic "With Every Beat of My Heart," a tune that filled dance floors in 1961.
Knight gave credit to Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, the black female singers who paved the way for the likes of Patti LaBelle Aretha Franklin and herself, and then delivered an emotionally charged rendition of "The Man I Love."
Throughout her set, Knight maintained a comfortable patter with the audience. After singing her 1974 hit, "You Are the Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me," Knight offered a heartfelt thanks to them for "showing up."
"Really, it’s not a given. I am always in awe when anyone shows up. I am humbled," she said and her fans responded with enthusiastic applause.
Longtime fans were also treated to a number by Bubba Knight, Knight’s big brother and one of the original Pips, who hammed up a tribute to James Brown, giving his sister a few minutes to catch her breath before launching into the next few numbers.
Finally, not to disappoint the lawn-chair enthusiasts who had been calling out song requests all evening, Knight and her band rolled into "Midnight Train to Georgia."
With one last encore verse and admonishments to drive safely, Knight and the Utah Symphony musicians packed up for the last time this summer and, as a full moon rose over mountain, headed home.
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