'Visions of eternity' premiered

Strains of sacred music filled the Tabernacle on Temple Square March 18 as more than 250 Ricks College music students performed an original oratorio by LDS composer Crawford Gates.

Based on the 76th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the sacred work, "Visions of Eternity," was performed by the Ricks College Symphony Orchestra, A Cappella Choir and the Concert Chorale. The orchestra and choirs were on a concert tour March 16-25 in Idaho and Utah, during which they performed the oratorio six times. Two more concerts are scheduled - April 18 at the Idaho Falls (Idaho) Civic Auditorium, and April 23 at Ricks College.Commissioned last year, the oratorio is the first in a new Ricks College biennial tradition of asking LDS composers to write sacred works to be performed by music students.

"I think this is a wonderful thing, a tremendous thing - encouraging the writing of good music," said President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency, who attended the concert. He made his remarks before the concert during a dinner held in the Church Office Building for Utah members of the Ricks College President's Club.

Those at the dinner included President Thomas S. Monson of the First Presidency and his wife, Frances; and Elders L. Tom Perry and Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Council of the Twelve, with their wives Barbara and Elisa, respectively; Elaine L. Jack, Relief Society general president, and her husband, Joseph; Janette C. Hales, Young Women general president; and Michaelene P. Grassli, Primary general president, and her husband, Leonard.

President Hinckley called "Visions of Eternity" the capstone of Brother Gates' work, which includes such well-known LDS music pieces as "Promised Valley," and the music for the Hill Cumorah Pageant, both the 1957 and 1988 versions. Brother Gates has more than 700 works to his name.

"The whole Church has been blessed by reasons of your talent and will continue to be blessed by this oratorio," President Hinckley said in remarks directed toward Brother Gates. "Like all good music it will go on and be heard by this generation and generations to come."

The oratorio is arranged in four parts - The Salutation, Vision of the Son, Vision of Perdition, and Vision of the Celestial Kingdom. Interspersed in the sacred work are portions of the LDS hymn, "Our Savior's Love," for which Brother Gates wrote the music.

Conducted by R. Kevin Call, music director of the Symphony Orchestra, the concert included solos, duets, mixed quartets, instrumental and choir music, and recitations. Faculty members performed the solos, duets and mixed quartets and took part in instrumental music.

As the last strains of the oratorio faded, the performers received a standing ovation from a crowd that filled most of the main floor of the Tabernacle and portions of the balcony. Brother Gates, who was in the audience with his wife, Georgia, went on stage and embraced Brother Call.

Ricks College Pres. Steven D. Bennion was the announcer for the oratorio, which is normally about 67 minutes. The concert in the Tabernacle was shortened to 50 minutes because of a Mormon Tabernacle Choir practice after the concert.

Brother Gates expressed to the Church News his pleasure with the students' performance: "It's absolutely stupendous to have a junior college that produces that kind of a symphony orchestra and those kinds of choirs which do that kind of difficult work so superbly. I don't know of a junior college anywhere that I've ever come in contact with that's even close to this, in terms of the quality and maturity of the performance of its students."

Pres. Bennion related that the main impetus to beginning the tradition of commissioning sacred works was an address by President Spencer W. Kimball to BYU faculty and staff in the late 1960s. During the address, President Kimball said: "How could one ever portray in words and music the glories of the coming of the Father and the Son and the restoration of the doctrines and the priesthood and the keys unless he were an inspired Latter-day Saint, schooled in the history and doctrines and revelations and with rich musical ability and background and training?"

In 1988, Ricks College commissioned Darwin Wolford, a composer and member of the college's music faculty, to write an oratorio for the school's centennial. "We had such great success with the oratorio that we wanted to continue the tradition," Pres. Bennion related.

And the tradition developed last year with Pres. Bennion contacting Brother Gates, a long-time friend, to write an oratorio. "We invited him to write a piece of sacred music that could be premiered by our music department. He responded most graciously and surpassed our fondest expectations," the president recalled.

The 76th section of the Doctrine and Covenants was chosen by the college upon which to base the oratorio. "The section is such a magnificent revelation, full of power, beauty and insight," Brother Gates said during the President's Club dinner. As he was composing the work, he said he immersed himself in the scriptures. "Some of the music came like dictation, but others I had to struggle for. This has been a wonderful period of my life," he related.

He said he prayed frequently for spiritual guidance, and added that he knew at the end of each day he would have to "have something worthy of this incomparable text."

Brother Call, the conductor, said pieces of the oratorio began arriving in January. When the orchestra and choirs were able to rehearse the whole work, it fit "amazingly well, because the two choir directors, Clyde E. Luke and Kevin Brower, had worked with the choirs and prepared them, and I had been working with the symphony. We couldn't believe how easily it fit together."

Brother Call explained the effects of participating in "Visions of Eternity," and future oratorios can have on the education of a music student: "The function I believe of Ricks College is to show how the different disciplines combine with the gospel, and how music can be used to serve the gospel. This is an experience the students will never forget."

Pres. Bennion expressed his pleasure at the outcome of the oratorio, and his enthusiasm for future commissioned works through Ricks College. "As a Church-sponsored institution, we think it's a vital part of our mission to help inspire people as I think they were inspired tonight."

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