A new sound was heard on Temple Square Oct. 29 as a new alliance of musicians the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Temple Square Chorale and the Orchestra at Temple Square presented its premiere concert.
From audience response of enthusiastic applause and standing ovations, the concert was highly successful. President Gordon B. Hinckley and his wife, Sister Marjorie Hinckley, were among the musicians' admirers. "I was pleased with what I heard," President Hinckley told the Church News.
He described as "remarkable" the bringing together of an orchestra, choir and chorale that could put on such an ambitious concert that featured such works as "Death and Transfiguration," by Richard Strauss (1864-1949); "Variations on a Theme of Haydn," by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897); and Polovtsian Dances from "Prince Igor," by Alexander Borodin (1833-1887). The concert began with the orchestra playing Daniel Gawthrop's "Latter-day Overture," based on the melody "Come, Come, Ye Saints." Brother Gawthrop was in the audience.
The concert, President Hinckley said, was "just tremendous." He added, "I think that the Tabernacle Choir is a national treasure. I don't know of a better choir in America. I don't know the choirs of Europe, but I'm satisfied that there's nobody who does a better job than this Tabernacle Choir. They're good musicians."
The choir, he said, will get better with the addition of the symphony orchestra and the chorale.
The new musical groups on Temple Square grew out of comments President Hinckley made at Brigham Young University in a devotional address Nov. 10, 1998. In that address, he praised the choir, saying that it is "a musical body of magnificence, of wondrous excellence" and that its members had achieved such status through tremendous work. "But their present quality isn't enough," President Hinckley said. "The world is moving forward, and they must go on and improve, and improve, and improve."
With that charge, the directors of the Tabernacle Choir established the Temple Square Chorale and Training School and the Orchestra at Temple Square. In announcing the appointments of Mack Wilberg as director of the Temple Square Chorale and Barlow Bradford as director of the Orchestra at Temple Square, and both men as associate directors of the Tabernacle Choir, President Hinckley said: "With the rapid growth of the Church and the planned completion of the new assembly building in the year 2000, it becomes more important than ever before to provide the very best musical talent and leadership to meet the demands of the coming century."
Tabernacle Choir Pres. Wendell M. Smoot said that the Temple Square Chorale and Training School was created to serve as a gateway to the Tabernacle Choir. "Anyone who wishes to join the Tabernacle Choir must go through the chorale and training school, which runs from 11-14 weeks, in two sessions each year. Those who successfully complete service with the Temple Square Chorale become eligible to audition for the Tabernacle Choir. Members of the Tabernacle Choir also participate with the chorale and training school for musical retraining," he explained.
Jerold D. Ottley, music director of the Tabernacle Choir, who is to retire in December, and his wife, JoAnn Ottley, who served nearly 25 years as the Tabernacle Choir's voice coach, provide technical instructions and serve as advisers to the Temple Square Chorale and Training School.
Brother Wilberg said that the requirements for admission to the chorale and training school are as stringent as for the Tabernacle Choir. "Since the chorale is the gateway to the Tabernacle Choir, the standards have to be the same," he said.
Brother Wilberg said that those who were in the first session of the chorale and training school exceeded his expectations. "They were highly motivated, very disciplined and very proficient musically."
While the Temple Square Chorale had its own concert Oct. 16 in the Assembly Hall, its members sang with the Tabernacle Choir for the premiere concert Oct. 29 with the Orchestra at Temple Square. The chorale also has performed with the choir on "Music and the Spoken Word" broadcasts and at October general conference.
"This is a new moment in the history of music in the Church," Brother Wilberg said. "One can feel a bit overwhelmed but at the same time be very excited about the future."
The Orchestra at Temple Square will function concurrently as a concert orchestra and as a resource for other instrumental needs at Temple Square.
The fact that the first rehearsal for the orchestra was held less than two weeks before the concert attests to the musicians' expertise. Brother Bradford said of the 100 musicians in the orchestra, "They are not amateurs, by any means. Any player in this group would be able to go out and make money playing. A lot of them make their full living through music. There is no other way with an orchestra; you must have professional quality players to have a professional product."
Brother Bradford said that it was a challenge to select just 100 musicians for the orchestra. "We could have created two full-size orchestras and could have had two excellent groups with the quality of people who auditioned," he said.
Craig Jessop, music director designate of the Tabernacle Choir, said that the formation of the Temple Square Chorale and Training School and the Orchestra at Temple Square is "building on the legacy of some incredible men, Jerold Ottley and Robert C. Bowden." Brother Bowden was director for nearly 25 years of the Mormon Youth Chorus and Symphony, which was disbanded recently.
"The Church has always honored the past and lengthened its stride to meet the demands of the future. That's what we're trying to do," Brother Jessop said. "I always think of the pioneers who planted for those who would follow. They planted seeds that they knew they would never reap. But those who came after them received the benefits. That's exactly what's happening here. We're grateful for their work and what they have done. The best way I think we can honor Brother Ottley and Brother Bowden is to continue on in their great tradition as we move on to yet another chapter of music here at Church headquarters."
Brother Jessop said that one of the major features of the new musical organizations on Temple Square is that "it creates an environment where spirituality and high musical standards can be joined together."