Robert Shaw, one of the world's foremost choral and orchestral conductors, was to have been on the director's podium Feb. 13 as the Tabernacle Choir and Utah Symphony performed his arrangement of Johannes Brahms' "A German Requiem." However, the musician — who once said that a requiem should bring comfort to the living rather be regarded as a medieval art form to escort the departed to their heavenly rest — passed away Jan. 25.
When Tabernacle Choir associate director Craig Jessop stepped onto the podium in place of his close friend and mentor, it seemed that the first downbeat of his baton signaled the end of a musical era.
For the concert, Mr. Shaw had painstakingly revised existing English language texts of the requiem. His goal, he had said, was to "do the least possible harm to Brahms' music, while allowing an English-speaking chorus, audience or congregation to meet anew the mysterious communications of their richest linguistic community." Plainly and simply, Mr. Shaw wanted people to hear the beauty of the scriptures on which the text was based and understand their words of comfort.
"Blessed are they that mourn, For they shall have comfort," were the first words the choir sang in the concert. "They that sow in tears and weeping Surely shall reap with rejoicing."
It seemed a sort of sweet irony that the concert would be performed while the music world mourned Mr. Shaw's death, and performed by a choir he had directed three timesand for which he had expressed so much love and admiration and an orchestra that had performed twice under his baton during his visits to Salt Lake City.
For Brother Jessop, there was an added dimension to "Requiem." Within 24 hours after the death of his musical mentor, Brother Jessop's father, Don Jessop, passed away. "The concert was a public remembrance of Mr. Shaw and, for me, a private remembrance of my father," Brother Jessop said.
The Tabernacle Choir and Utah Symphony spent the evenings of Feb. 15 and 16 recording "A German Requiem." The recording was done by Telarc, which has won numerous Grammy Awards.
Guest soloists were Nathan Gunn, a baritone with the New York Metropolitan Opera, and Janice Chandler, soprano, who has performed nationwide. The soloists had been invited to perform by Mr. Shaw.
The concert was part of the Tanner Gift of Music series.
Music lovers in Utah had looked forward to Mr. Shaw's return to Salt Lake City.
"One of the top things he relished about the Tabernacle Choir is the love and the commitment these singers bring to the choral art, solely for the love of choral art, and for the praising of Heavenly Father," Brother Jessop said. "I sat with him in a Tabernacle Choir broadcast when he was here in 1997 for two Sundays. He performed with us on the second Sunday, but on the first Sunday, he just listened. When it was over, he said, 'Craig, I've never seen so much heart with so much class in my life.' He meant it with all of his heart."
That members of the choir admired and loved Mr. Shaw was evident at the first rehearsal after his death — which happened to be the evening of the day that Brother Jessop's father passed away. Many wiped tears as they sang, with some commenting on their "double loss."