Keith Lockhart, music director for the Utah Symphony, said, "I think Abravanel Hall ranks among the finest modern halls in the country. Acoustically, it is warm and embracing; it gives the audience a real sense of the presence of the orchestra, and there's not a bad seat in the house! Architecturally, it is simply stunning; simple, clean and elegant — a wonderful temple in which to hear the great gift of music."
When Maurice Abravanel became the conductor in 1947, the Utah Symphony was a part-time community orchestra. Later it grew to be “respected and revered throughout the country and the world.” The Symphony rehearsed and performed in the Tabernacle on Temple Square, but Abravanel believed that to rise to the “next level,” the organization needed a home of its own. On the design of the building, Abravanel told the planning committee, “If you will choose the acoustician before you select the architect, I will stay out of your way.”
In preparation for the country's bicentennial celebration, President Richard Nixon promised federal funding for state arts projects, but after Watergate the funding did not materialize. Utah's $19 million Bicentennial Arts Project included a concert hall, a visual arts center, and the restoration of the Capitol Theatre. Funding came from an $8.6 million bond passed by voters in 1975 and a $6 million appropriation from the Utah State Legislature. The balance was paid by Salt Lake County and private donations. Obert C. Tanner and Jack W. Gallivan were asked to oversee fund raising, planning, and construction.
The glass wall in the lobby is set into a trough to allow for seasonal expansion and contraction. The Chihuly glass sculpture for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games remains in the lobby and requires dusting every six weeks. The lobby, conference rooms, a reception lounge, the Tanner Lounge, and the first-tier reception room are available for special occasions, weddings, business functions, and receptions. Office and storage space backstage include practice rooms, dressing rooms, lockers, a “piano garage” for grand pianos, and a library for books and scores. An inside loading dock allows instruments and equipment to be unloaded in any weather.
An expansion in 1998 added a new reception area on the first tier, an expanded box-office area, and better restroom facilities.