Lauding 'A Team'

Guest artists and Tabernacle Choir leadership are mutual admirers

At a news conference featuring the two guest artists at the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Christmas Concert, choir president Mac Christensen declared, "We have the A Team here today."

President Christensen, along with the choir's musical director Mack Wilberg, baritone Brian Stokes Mitchell and actor Edward K. Herrmann spoke to reporters near the Conference Center main stage on Friday, Dec. 12, just hours before the first of two formal performances of the concert.

"We have three of the kindest, most gentle men that you could ever, ever work with," he said regarding Brother Wilberg and the two guest artists, noting that the preview performance on Thursday had been the best such preview of a choir Christmas concert that he could remember.

"I can't think of a better choir in the world to sing with," said Mr. Mitchell, a Tony-award winning Broadway star who performed with the choir and the Utah Symphony at the O.C. Tanner Gift of Music Concert in September.

"It's magical," he added. "I wish all the people in the world could have the experience of actually standing up there and being surrounded by these heavenly voices. They're all just incredible artists, individually and collectively."

Mr. Herrmann described the experience of working with the choir and Orchestra at Temple Square as "manna from heaven."

Asked what led up to his engagement for the Christmas concert, he said, "A phone call got me here."

"My wife is LDS," he added. Then, turning to where his wife, Star, was seated, he said to her, "But I understand that you didn't have anything to do with this, except through prayer and the efficacy of prayer." Then, he added jokingly, "I always think it changes hearts, but obviously it moves mountains as well."

The couple met more than 30 years ago while working together on location in St. George, Utah, for a movie directed by LDS filmmaker Kieth Merrill, "Harry's War."

Mr. Herrmann, who is known for his screen portrayal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt among other roles, said he had worked with good people before, but regarding the Tabernacle Choir, "there is an element here that I feel, that you are working for something other than just making beautiful music. There is a spiritual element here that is wonderful."

Mr. Mitchell added: "It's palpable when you're singing on stage. You just feel it. You just kind of let it come through you, because it's in everything. It's in the building (the Conference Center), it's in the orchestra, it's in all of the people that work with the show. It's in the choir. It's in everything. It makes our job, I think, very easy."

While Mr. Mitchell was expressing his admiration for the choir, he was interrupted by the ringing of Brother Wilberg's telephone. "My cell phone never rings," the chagrined choir director said.

"It might be God calling," the baritone joked. "The way he arranges music, it might be God saying, 'Hey, I've got something for you to work on.'"

He said he feels like Brother Wilberg is "a kindred spirit, because we feel and hear music in the same way."

"It was so fun when he came out to New York, and we were working on the arrangement that you hear (in the concert) of 'The Friendly Beasts,' which is just brilliant. It was almost like we didn't have to speak. We just kind of sat and thought this thing through."

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