Orchestra observes 15th anniversary with Tchaikovsky concerto

Credit: R. Scott Lloyd
Credit: R. Scott Lloyd
Credit: R. Scott Lloyd

The Orchestra at Temple Square observed its 15th anniversary by performing with a piano prodigy and by showcasing the Salt Lake Tabernacle organ and the prowess of one of its regular organists.

At its annual Fall Concert Oct. 17-18, presented in the Tabernacle, the orchestra performed Tchaikovsky’s familiar “Concerto no. 1 in B-flat Minor for Piano and Orchestra, op. 23.” At the piano was 19-year-old prodigy George Li, who gave his first public performance at age 10 and is now a graduate student at Harvard University and the New England Conservatory of Music.

Tabernacle organist Clay Christiansen was featured in the second portion of the concert, a performance of “Symphony no. 3 in C Minor, op. 78” (“Organ”) by Camille Saint-Saens.

“I didn’t expect it would be so difficult to talk,” said conductor Igor Gruppman in introducing the performance. “I’m very emotional at this time, especially because 10 years out of the 15, I have been conductor of this orchestra. I can’t express what a privilege it is to share the stage with these wonderful, dedicated musicians. They truly inspire me, always have and always will with their dedication and their ability to produce a miracle every time. I’m truly grateful to my Heavenly Father for these years, and it feels wonderful.”

Greeting the audience prior to the appearance of Brother Gruppman, Barry Anderson, administrative manager of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir organization and of the orchestra, said the concert commemorates the orchestra’s 15th anniversary.

“The first rehearsal was held Oct. 16, 1999, here in the Tabernacle,” he said.

He noted that President James E. Faust, then second counselor in the First Presidency, addressed the members of the new orchestra on that occasion. Brother Anderson shared this quote from President Faust’s remarks:

“We are making history in this dispensation this morning. We are plowing new ground. Never before in the history of the Church has there been an undertaking of this magnitude with respect to orchestral music. The vision of the First Presidency is that over time this orchestra could achieve excellence and prestige in national and even worldwide musical circles. It will require consecration, sacrifice and dedication.”

Brother Anderson then commented, “We have seen this come to pass in the last 15 years.”

He asked the members of the orchestra who were present in 1999 to stand; several did.

In his remarks, Brother Gruppman said he and his wife, Vesna, have been with the orchestra from the very beginning, as they were called and set apart by President Gordon B. Hinckley to be concertmasters, and then, five years later, he was called to be the conductor.

Regarding the Tchaikovsky piece, Brother Gruppman said it “has everything: great virtuosity, breathtaking moments of discovery, inspiration, hardship, trial.”

“Many great artists added to the history of the interpretation of this wonderful piece,” he said, mentioning Vladimir Horowitz and Arthur Rubenstein.

“However, I would like to mention just one performance that melted everybody’s heart. It was the interpretation and the performance of the great American pianist Van Cliburn. I could not hear it, because it was the year I was born. But I heard stories, and I have seen videos and have heard so many accounts from Russian people who will never forget this American coming to the Soviet Union at a very, very difficult time in the history of the relationship of the two countries.”

Saying he was putting a lot of pressure on the performer backstage, he added, “But let me tell you, George Li is a fine young artist. He has not only mastered this concerto but has brought his own interpretation, his own vision of it, and it’s as powerful as other interpretations.”

Introducing the second portion of the concert, Brother Gruppman said Camille Saint-Saens wrote it at the peak of his power as a composer, toward the end of his life and said himself that he could not create anything better.

Brother Gruppman called the piece a “wonderful story of human perseverance, of human struggle and reaching up toward the sky, toward the divine.”

He said the audience would feel that, due to the inclusion “of a very special instrument, the great Tabernacle Organ. … We want to feature it and make it sing and roar and really lift this roof.”

The concert was video-recorded for potential use on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s YouTube channel, Brother Anderson said.

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