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Robert Lentz, Founder of Utah Youth Orchestra, dies

Published April 12, 2013 1:30 pm

The former Utah Symphony timpanist is remembered for his decadeslong impact on young musicians.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Robert Lee Lentz came to Utah in 1955, after Utah Symphony music director Maurice Abravanel signed him to a contract on hotel stationery.

Lentz stayed as the orchestra's timpanist until 1980.

Although he was an accomplished musician, Lentz, who died on March 29 at the age of 83, is being remembered this week as a man who instilled the love of music in generations of local musicians.

"I owe Bob Lentz a lot," said Craig Fineshriber, who retired after 41 years as principal percussionist of the Utah Symphony. Fineshriber began taking snare drum lessons from Lentz when he was 12 and then performed in the Utah Youth Symphony, which Lentz began in 1960.

The Utah Youth Symphony almost never happened.

Lentz wanted to start a youth orchestra when he arrived in Utah, but Abravanel was resistant. "He didn't want to compete with anyone," Lentz said in a 2010 interview with The Tribune.

After years of asking, Lentz finally was given permission to lead a youth orchestra that included about 95 young musicians ages 12 to 21.

Three years ago, Lentz was honored for his work and dedication on the 50th anniversary of the youth orchestra. More than 125 musicians from the youth organization have gone on to work in professional symphony orchestras all over the country.

Lentz was born on Dec. 18, 1929, and grew up in Hollywood, Calif., where he began playing violin at the age of 3. His father, Herbert, worked at a movie studio, which led to Lentz becoming a member of the original "Our Gang" comedies, better known as the "Little Rascals."

Lentz served in the Navy Band during the Korean War, and in 1955 moved to Utah. He retired as music director and conductor of the Utah Youth Symphony in 1986.

Students of Lentz remembered him for his passion.

In 1960, Scott Kenney, of Alpine, was 14 and a charter member of the Utah Youth Symphony. He said Lentz wanted the music "played not so much technically perfect but emotionally true."

Lentz often used unorthodox methods to achieve his goal. On Thursday, Kenney recalled one lesson in particular. "To get me to feel the music, he danced around with a scarf in his hand," said Kenney, who will be an honorary pallbearer at Lentz's funeral.

Kenney said that up until Lentz's death, the two would meet weekly to organize the hundreds of photographs Lentz had accumulated from his time on "Little Rascals."

Lentz is survived by his wife, Lori, eight children, seven grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter. Funeral services will be held Saturday, April 13, at 11 a.m. at the Midvale Union Park Stake Center (7699. S. Chad St., Midvale).

Viewings will be held Friday night from 5 to 8 p.m. at the McDougal Funeral Home (4330 S. Redwood Road, Murray), and Saturday at the church between 9:30 and 10:45 a.m.

dburger@sltrib.com

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Robert Lee Lentz

1929-2013