Directors recall highlights of 'amazing tour'

"Exhilarating, exhausting, exuberant and extraordinary" was how Mormon Tabernacle Choir music director Craig Jessop described the choir's summer tour to 10 venues in the northeastern United States.

"It was an amazing tour. In my professional life, it was probably the finest tour I've ever been on, truly. We had the finest venues, the finest audiences."

The tour included 11 performances at 10 venues: Interlochen Arts Festival, Traverse City, Mich.; Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, Mich.; Chautauqua Festival (a matinee, which included taping of Music and the Spoken Word broadcast, and an evening concert), Chautauqua, N.Y.; New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark, N.J.; Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City; Charles River Esplanade with Boston Pops (a dress rehearsal was performed July 3 in addition to the performance July 4), Boston, Mass.; Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, Vienna, Va.; Mann Center, Philadelphia, Pa., and Tanglewood Festival with the Boston Symphony, Lenox, Mass.

Brother Jessop said he felt the tour was received "extremely well by our listeners. The special program at Tanglewood was the icing on the cake."

That program, said Brother Jessop, showed the extraordinary breadth and depth of the singers and their abilities.

Brother Jessop spoke of the privilege of being on the tour's programs. "I'm so mindful that the magic and genius of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is not built around a personality or an individual," he said. "We've seen great choruses — Robert Shaw, Roger Wagner, Norman Luboff — they've all come and gone. They've been built on personalities. But the Tabernacle Choir is not. It's built around faith in the gospel."

After the concluding performance at Tanglewood, he said he couldn't help but think of all his predecessors who directed the choir: Jerold Ottley, Richard Condie, Jay Welch, Spencer Cornwall, Anthony Lund and Evan Stephens.

"And thousands of singers, some of them nameless, have come and gone, but collectively they've all contributed."

Mack Wilberg, the choir's associate music director, said that someone asked him which venue he liked best. "I said the venues were great, but the response of the audiences is what I'll remember more than anything else."

He said he was surprised by some of that response. At the July 4th celebration in Boston, for example, the audience of nearly 700,000 clapped, cheered, hollered and whistled when the emcee introduced the choir.

Ten concerts featured a program that included hymns of praise, selections from the masters, folk music and patriotic songs. The choir was accompanied by two Tabernacle organists, John Longhurst and Richard Elliott. Lloyd D. Newell served as announcer, and provided narration for the Music and the Spoken Word that was taped at Chautauqua for later broadcast. The 11th concert, at Tanglewood, featured "The Chichester Psalms," by Leonard Bernstein and "A German Requiem," by Johannes Brahms.

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