On March 21, President Thomas S. Monson named Mack Wilberg as the new music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square. Announcement of the calling was made to choir members during rehearsal on Thursday evening, March 27.
Edgar Thompson, former director of the University of Utah School of Music and a volunteer with the choir, was announced as the interim assistant to Brother Wilberg until a formal search is undertaken and completed for a new associate music director.
As music director, Brother Wilberg will oversee all musical and creative aspects of the choir, the orchestra, the Temple Square Chorale and the Bells on Temple Square, including selecting repertoire for concerts, recordings, and creative direction for the weekly Music and the Spoken Word broadcast. He is also involved with selecting and training new choir members and many other duties. He, along with the choir president, Mac Christensen, will represent the choir at receptions with scheduled performances.
Prior to this appointment, Brother Wilberg served as associate music director of the choir and conductor of the Temple Square Chorale. He was appointed to those positions in May 1999. He had been serving as interim choir director ever since Craig Jessop stepped down on March 4 as director.
"My intention is to continue to build on the great legacy and tradition of the choir," Brother Wilberg told the Church News. "Craig leaves a great legacy. There are things that he was able to do during his tenure that only he could have done. Those include the beginning of the choir school, the formation of the Orchestra at Temple Square those were done with the support of President Gordon B. Hinckley and Wendell Smoot, former president of the Choir, and, with direction of our current president, Mac Christensen, the beginning of our own highly successful recording label. Aside from being a wonderful musician, Craig is a man of compassion, vision, exuberance and goodness; all of those combined make for a great combination.
"I'm very honored by this appointment and very aware, again, of the legacy and tradition that have preceded me. I know that I and everyone else involved with the choir, stand on the shoulders of those who came before us."
Brother Wilberg has a clear memory of the first time he saw and heard the Tabernacle Choir. "I grew up in a little town in central eastern Utah," he said. "Coming to Salt Lake City was a big deal. I came to Salt Lake City with my grandmother and we went to the Tabernacle one evening when the choir was rehearsing. Richard Condie was conducting and the choir was singing 'The Holy City.' I remember that sound, and I was almost not able to believe what I was hearing, and to be in the Tabernacle seemed so incredible. Now, it is almost unbelievable that I'm involved in that very activity. When I see children at choir events or rehearsals, I'm always aware of that experience that I had as a young boy, and I'm always wondering who is out there. You just never know."
Brother Wilberg is internationally recognized for his choral compositions and arrangements; he publishes exclusively with Oxford University Press. His biography on the Oxford University Press Web site states: "Wilberg's arrangements and compositions, with their grandeur, energy and charm, inspire performers and audiences everywhere."
Of his work as a composer and an arranger, Brother Wilberg said, "I'm hoping that I will be able to carve out some time to be able to continue that. Quite often, things need to be tailor made for the choir."
Asked about immediate plans with the choir, Brother Wilberg said there are several events already scheduled, including the weekly Sunday morning broadcasts of "Music and the Spoken Word," general conference and a recording session in May, as well as some special events during the summer, including a Pioneer Day concert. He described working with the choir as "like getting onto a train that's already moving quickly and is constantly fast moving. There's never a down moment for the choir."
He is a former professor of music at Brigham Young University and is active as a composer, arranger, guest conductor and clinician throughout the United States and abroad. His compositions and arrangements are performed and recorded by choral organizations throughout the world. In addition to the many compositions he has written for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, his works have most recently been performed by such artists as Renee Fleming, Frederica von Stade, Bryn Terfel, The King's Singers, Audra McDonald, and narrators Walter Cronkite and Charles Osgood.
Brother Wilberg received his bachelor's degree from Brigham Young University and his master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Southern California. He and his wife, Rebecca, are parents of four children.
Brother Thompson, in addition to his former duties with the University of Utah's School of Music, had been the music director for the university's A Cappella Choir, as well as former conductor of the Utah Symphony Chorus and a former member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He was serving in a volunteer capacity to the choir at the time of his appointment as interim assistant and will help Brother Wilberg with the choir and orchestra until a new associate music conductor is named.
A committee is being formed to conduct a Churchwide search for the new associate conductor. Applications will be accepted beginning in August. They will be reviewed through the end of the year with an appointment by the First Presidency anticipated in the spring of 2009. Gerry Avant