Tabernacle 'celebration' bids adieu to Games

On the eve of the closing of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics, the concert in the Tabernacle on Temple Square had just the right title: "Celebration!"

Part of the Cultural Olympiad, the concert Feb. 23 featured the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square, with the king'singers and the International Children's Choir as special guests.

Conducted by Mack Wilberg, an associate director of the Tabernacle Choir, the Saturday evening concert enjoyed predictable and overwhelming success, attracting a full house, as did the Sunday morning broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word and an encore concert immediately afterward. Even the dress rehearsal Saturday afternoon drew a large audience. All total, upwards of 15,000 people streamed onto Temple Square to hear the choir, orchestra and guest performers.

They were not disappointed. The concert opened with "Celebration 2002," a segment that featured the choir and orchestra performing John Williams' "Call of the Champions," which was the official theme of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.

Next came "Celebration of Praise," which began with the king'singers surprising and delighting the audience with an antiphonal response from the rear balcony as the choir sang Ren Clausen's "Canticle of Praise." Two hymns arranged by Brother Wilberg rounded out this segment: "O Come Ye Nations of the Earth" and "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling."

"Celebration of Life" was next, with the orchestra and king's singers performing works by George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Harold Arlen. The six-man group from King's College in Cambridge, England, won several rounds of applause — sometimes in mid-performance — as was the case in "Creole Love Call." For that selection, the group transformed itself into a jazz band, using their voices to create instrumental sounds.

children;s choir
children;s choir | Photo by Gerry Avant

The orchestra took over for the next portion of the concert, "Celebration of Achievement," as it performed John Williams' "The Olympic Spirit."

"Celebration of World Folk Music" featured the choir, orchestra, king'singers and children's choir performing songs from 11 nations.

The concluding segment, "Celebration of Spirit," featured the orchestra performing excerpts from Antonn Dvork's "Largo, from Symphony No. 9, Op. 95." The king'singers sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and joined the choir and orchestra in singing "I'm Runnin' On," featuring choir member soloist Brenda Woods.

A highlight of the program was the International Children's Choir parading flags of nations and lining the choir loft. Foster Johnson, 12, led out in singing "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," and was joined by the children's choir, king'singers, orchestra and Tabernacle Choir, bringing the program to a fitting conclusion.

The audience wasn't satisfied, however, and enticed two encore numbers, "You Are the New Day," and "Thou Gracious God."

World renowned, the king'singers are popular performers for Utah audiences. The group has performed with the Tabernacle Choir and the Utah Symphony during three previous appearances in Salt Lake City.

King'singer bass, Stephen Connolly, who has been with the group 15 years and has been to Salt Lake City on its previous tours, described the Tabernacle Choir as "absolutely fantastic. This is the best I've heard the choir. They're singing right on."

Philip Lawson, baritone, spoke of the addition of music to sports during the Olympics. "To have an experience with a choir and an orchestra as marvelous as this as an integral part of the Olympics is something that I think should start a trend. This should be the first of many similar occasions," he said.

Children's choir participant Sunday, Feb. 24, 2002
Children's choir participant Sunday, Feb. 24, 2002 | Photo by Gerry Avant

The king'singers and Utahns share admiration. Paul Phoenix, tenor, said, "This is my fourth visit to Salt Lake City [which] is like nowhere else on earth that we've visited — the friendliness, the warmth of the people here, the welcome that we receive, the whole atmosphere of the place, particularly at the moment — it's quite amazing. Salt Lake City has a special place in our hearts because of working with Craig Jessop, Mack Wilberg and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir."

Robin Tyson, countertenor, made his first visit to Salt Lake City. "I've listened to the Tabernacle Choir's CDs, and I know their work," he said. "Before we came away, I watched the Opening Ceremonies on TV. It was very impressive. It's great to be here, working with them live. They're tremendous."

Gabriel Crouch, baritone, has been to Salt Lake City four times. "I love this city," he said. "I don't think there's anywhere in the world where the reception we get is warmer, where people appreciate music more, where more people come. There's a real love of music and singing here. It makes it really rewarding to work here. We come here as often as we can."

David Hurley, countertenor, said that he feels one reason his group is so popular in Utah is the strong choral tradition in the state. "We've heard the Tabernacle Choir and some of the fantastic college and high school choirs and other choirs here in Utah. That is very much the wonderful basis for an audience for us, to have people who appreciate singing, who enjoy singing and do singing themselves — they make the best audiences."

One concert remains in the Cultural Olympiad on Temple Square. On March 9, 7:30 p.m., world-famous percussionist Evelyn Glennie will perform with the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square.


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