Music to match majestic mountains

Tabernacle Choir sings in 2 concerts at Teton festival

As if complementing nature's own melody of babbling brooks and the songs of birds, the Tabernacle Choir brought the music of Berlioz to the majestic Teton mountains in two concerts Aug. 20 and 21.

The choir and a specially assembled orchestra combined musical expertise to present "Requiem" by French composer Hector Berlioz as the grand finale of the 1993 Grand Teton Music Festival at Teton Village near Jackson.The festival, which was in its 32nd season, features classical music performed by some of the top musicians throughout the United States and many parts of the world. This year's festival began July 3 and concluded Aug. 21.

This was the choir's fourth appearance at the festival. In 1980, the choir presented Brahms' "Requiem," and returned in 1982 to perform Verdi's "Requiem" and in 1987 to sing Mendelssohn's "Elijah."

The choir's performance at this year's festival was a highly anticipated event. Judging from sold-out tickets before the two concerts and prolonged applause afterward, the choir met all expectations.

"When we announced the choir's performance at this event, there was a tremendous rush to buy tickets," said Jeff Woodruff, the festival's artistic administrator. "It was an absolute frenzy; the phones wouldn't stop ringing. This is a highly coveted ticket, not just in the Jackson Hole area, but also in the wider vicinity. People have come from Utah, Idaho, other parts of Wyoming, and from throughout the country to hear this choir and orchestra.

"There is a sense of excitement about this performance. People who bought tickets to this will never forget it; they can attend a lot of concerts in their lifetime but they'll never forget this one."

Demands for tickets, which were $50 each, were so great that festival organizers opened rehearsals to spectators Thursday evening, Aug. 19, and Friday morning, Aug. 20, charging $10 each.

Tabernacle Choir director Jerold Ottley turned conducting duties over to Grand Teton Music Festival director Ling Tung. Brother Ottley, having listened to the concerts rather than having directed them, said he had three statements to make about the performances: "My first statement is Wow!' My second isWow! Wow!' And my third statement is, `Wow! Wow! Wow!' "

Brother Ottley commented on the choir's appearance at the festival: "It's one of the very few times that the Tabernacle Choir gets to perform music for music's sake. Usually there are other goals or purposes driving the performances, which are normally scheduled with other kinds of events that have other than a pure musical purpose. This experience was rewarding to the musician's soul."

Mr. Tung, who was born in Shanghai, has played with and directed orchestras in many parts of the world and has been music director at the Teton festival since 1968. He told the Church News: "The Tabernacle Choir is really the best. It's such a thrill to work with the choir members. Jerold Ottley has done a great job.

"Our orchestra is made up of principal players from orchestras from all over the country and the world. They are some of the brightest and most exciting players anywhere. The orchestra always looks forward to performing with the Tabernacle Choir. Everyone in the orchestra remarked to me what a thrilling sound the choir is. The orchestra members are so impressed. I hope we can work together more often.

"It has certainly been my dream to direct the Tabernacle Choir. I have worked with the choir several times, and it is always a thrill. The Tabernacle Choir members make singing their life. They take it very seriously and they're well trained. This is what makes it a joy to direct and listen to."

He said Berlioz's "Requiem" is not performed often because it is a difficult piece to present. The Tabernacle Choir has performed it several times, including performances during its concert tour to Israel in late December 1992 and early January this year.

A Requiem is a mass for the dead, based on biblical and apocryphal texts. Berlioz's "Requiem," composed in 1837, is described as being among the most imposing collaborations of voices and orchestra. Sung in Latin, it presents a musical portrait of life's end and the hereafter. The composer hoped to have an orchestra and chorus of more than 1,000 present his work in an outdoor setting. The Teton festival's presentation featured 382 musicians: 272 of the choir's 311 members and 110 players in the orchestra.

The two concerts were performed in Walk Festival Hall, a wooden building designed and built especially for the Teton music festival. The hall has 17 rows of seats, and an audience capacity of nearly 1,000. Brother Ottley said, "Acoustically, performing in this hall feels like one imagines it would be to be inside a Stradivarius. The sounds are so beautifully molded and unified."

The performers and audience were close enough to feed off each other's excitement for and enjoyment of the music. The orchestra spilled into the audience as four brass sections were placed in the aisles at the ends of nine rows of the hall. With guest tenor Robert Breault delivering an exquisite, angelic-like solo from the center of the back row, the audience was surrounded, in the middle of the performance. The effect was exciting. It seemed as though the hall had been constructed just for that performance.

Dr. Breault, assistant professor of voice and director of opera at the University of Utah, has performed with the San Francisco Opera and other companies in the United States and France and with the choir during its concert tour to Israel. He commented on the caliber of the choir and orchestra:

"I don't think Berlioz heard a choir and orchestra perform his `Requiem' as well as we heard it at this festival. That is the most incredible orchestra I've not only performed with but ever heard. To put all these players and singers together is such a gem. The Tabernacle Choir has learned this piece, and it has grown with them. When you live with a piece, you start to digest it a little bit and you can give a lot more.

"The Tabernacle Choir is a very highly trained choir that can take a

piece like `Requiem' and do incredible justice to it. Professional groups might do it differently, but they aren't going to do it any better than the Tabernacle Choir. The orchestra members I talked to easily commented on what a great choir this is, what a great time they had performing with this choir. These are musicians who have heard it all, who have had experiences with music we can't begin to imagine, but this experience of performing with the choir was entirely different and thrilling for them.

"I don't think this performance could be duplicated. Here are all these people who have come together in the Tetons for the love of music. To have this caliber of orchestra and then add the Tabernacle Choir - how can you get any better?"

Audience response to the performances was enthusiastic. One sensed that if concert protocol had permitted, members of the audience would have stood and cheered after every movement. Since the concert was performed without intermission, audiences had to hold their applause until the last notes of "Requiem" faded. But once the notes subsided at the end of the 90-minute performance, the applause was loud and long.

At the end of the performance Friday, Aug. 20, for example, members of the audience jumped to their feet, clapped, whistled and shouted "Bravo! Bravo!" The hubub lasted about three minutes and, without doubt, would have continued longer had not Maestro Tung raised both hands to motion the audience into silence. He then announced that the choir and orchestra would perform an encore.

The conductor did not name the encore, but it took the audience only a second to recognize the first notes of "Battle Hymn of the Republic." The applause began again but quickly subsided to allow the audience to hear every nuance of one of the choir's best known presentations.

Evan and Johnnie Lu Morgan of Lynchburg, Va., were among those in the audience Friday evening. They followed the choir to the Tetons for the performance.

"We were planning to be in Salt Lake City this Sunday [Aug. 22T," Mrs. Morgan said. "We were on our way from Lynchburg to visit our family in Moon Lake and Spokane, Wash., and planned to stop off in Salt Lake City to hear the choir on Sunday. I called the choir office to be sure they would be in town, but was told they would be on the road this weekend. I asked, `Where on the road will they be? Wherever the choir is going, we'll follow them.' That's what we're doing here. We altered our route to come to Jackson because of the choir. This performance was worth the whole trip."

Had the choir been in Salt Lake City, the Morgans could have heard it for free. They did not seem concerned that a pair of tickets at Teton Village cost them $100. "It was worth every penny and every extra mile," they declared.

The Morgans were among the 700 or so people who attended the Sunday morning CBS Network broadcast of "Music and the Spoken Word." Usually, the program is carried live by radio and television; the Aug. 22 program, however, was broadcast from the Tetons only by radio. The program, narrated by Lloyd Newell, featured songs and hymns befitting the majestic setting of the Tetons. Among the numbers were "Make a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord," "Let Thy Holy Presence Come Upon Us," "Almighty God of Our Fathers," "Down in the Valley," "The Sound of Music," "O Home Beloved," and "Glorious Everlasting."

As choir members prepared to return home, many looked a last time at the majestic Teton range. Here they had performed music to match these mountains.

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