Those music lovers who attended the Utah Symphony's sold-out season debut concert Friday, and those somewhat fewer souls who attended the pre-concert gala, had a heavenly experience - literally.

For his official debut as the symphony's new musical director, Keith Lockhart directed the orchestra in Gustav Holst's "The Planets." And all the stars were out at the Marriott Hotel gala.Politicians (Gov. Mike Leavitt said a few words), prominent businessmen, local television personalities - everybody who was anybody attended the $150-per-person dinner (not including concert ticket).

"They're all here tonight," mused a waitress looking on as the cognoscenti filed into the elegantly decorated ballroom. "It's really something, isn't it?"

Blanche Freed, former head of the Utah Symphony Guild, wore a bemused expression as she entered the room. "Back in the old days, before concerts, we used to make cookies and have the conductor come and tell us a little about the music."

So things have changed a bit since then? "Oh my goodness, yes."

Utah has been seeing a lot of change of late - I-15 reconstruction, light rail, exploding growth, the Olympics - and symphony officers have been keen to revitalize the symphony as well - pick it up, dust it off and give it a good shake, as it were.

Although Lockhart wasn't the orchestra members' first choice as music director, of the 12 who auditioned for the post last year, those in charge believed his youth (38 years) and vitality would help put the symphony in a new direction.

Lockhart is known for being unafraid of innovation. An obvious example: in-line skating onto the stage.

"There's a lot of excitement over here," said the symphony's associate director of development, Kristine Widner. "Keith has been here since Tuesday. It's magical. We're very pleased with our selection."

This was the symphony's second-annual gala. The brainchild of symphony director of development Jay Ball, it is intended to drum up money, support and publicity for the orchestra. What's more, symphony board chairman David Winder Friday announced a new five-year, $11 million capital fund-raising campaign, jump-started by a $1.5 million contribution from the S.J. and Jessie E. Quinney Foundation.

The contribution will fund the Guest Conductor Chair, occupied this year by Pavel Kogan, one of Lockhart's competitors for the top job.

If you weren't one of the folks who got a seat at the gala, or paid $5,000 to sponsor a table, this is what you missed: cold lobster appetizer, citrus salad with blood orange dressing (no, that's just its name), tenderloin over wild mushrooms, creme caramel, and the chance to hobnob with orchestra members, one or two of whom were present at every table.

The gala organizing committee had met since April to make sure Ball's vision came off perfectly, deciding what color to make the tablecloths (some black, some white) and the centerpieces (extremely long-stemmed yellow roses). During one gathering they conducted a taste-test of possible menu items.

"That was a good meeting," said committee member Nedra Chard.

All well and good, Lockhart said, but, lest we forget, all this hoopla was focused on a single thing: the music.

"This is both an honor and an awe-inspiring responsibility," Lockhart said of his new position. "The orchestra is poised on the verge of future, greater, things."