Robert Lee Lentz first came to Utah after legendary Utah Symphony music director Maurice Abravanel signed him to a contract on hotel stationery in 1955, and he stayed as the orchestra’s timpanist until 1980.
But 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 as principal percussionist of the Utah Symphony two years ago after 41 years. Fineshriber began taking snare drum lessons from Lentz when he was 12, and later he graduated into 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 in a 2010 interview with The Tribune, said Abravanel was very resistant. "He didn’t want to compete with anyone," Lentz said.
But after years of asking, Lentz finally was given permission to lead a youth orchestra of about 95 young people between the ages of 12 and 21.
Three years ago, Lentz was feted at the Tavernacle on Temple Square during the 50th anniversary of the orchestra, an orchestra that led to more than 125 musicians becoming musicians in professional symphony orchestras all over the country, from Philadelphia to Salt Lake City.
Students of Lentz remembered him most for one specific quality: passion. Scott Kenney of Alpine, was a charter member of the Utah Youth Symphony as a 14-year-old violist in 1960. Kenney said Lentz wanted the music "played not so much technically perfect, but emotionally true." He remembers the maestro’s often-unorthodox methods to achieve his aim, especially during one lesson. "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.
Lentz was born on Dec. 18, 1929, and grew up in Hollywood, Calif., where he began playing violin at the age of three. 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. Kenney said that up until Lentz’s death, the two would meet weekly to organize the hundreds of photographs Lentz had accumulated from that era.
Lentz served in the Navy Band during the Korean War, and in 1955 moved to Utah.
Lentz retired as music director and conductor of the Utah Youth Symphony in 1986.
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 between 5 and 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.
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