Two young Latter-day Saint graduates of Brigham Young University who have already made their mark on the entertainment world joined the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square for the annual Pioneer Day Concert in the Conference Center July 19 in a program of homage to perseverance and triumph over adversity.
Operatic and pop tenor Nathan Pacheco and YouTube sensation Lindsey Stirling, who combines violin stylings and electronic dubstep beats with modern dance, were guest artists at the sell-out concert Friday evening, July 19; the concert was repeated Saturday.
Brother Pacheco appeared early in the program, beginning his set with "Don't Cry," a song he composed with Leonardo De Bernardini.
"Your heart is strong enough to see this battle won," he sang. "Your faith will make the morning come. Your faith will bring the rising sun."
He completed the opening set with the debut performance of "Prendi I Miei Sogni," a composition by his friend Colin O'Malley, who wrote parts expressly for Brother Pacheco's performance with the choir.
Sister Stirling showcased one of her own compositions, "Elements," displaying her kinetic stage artistry.
She then grew more subdued as she introduced her next selection, "Poor Little Lambs," a favorite song of her grandfather, Henry Leigh, an Army Air Corps Pilot in World War II and a U.S. Air Force pilot during the Korean conflict.
Her grandfather never spoke of war, she told the audience, but would often sing that song as a lullabye to family members.
The lines in the song "Gentlemen flyers off on a spree, Doomed from here to eternity, Lord have mercy on such as we" speak to the plight of mortal men in search of God's comfort as they are flying into battle, not knowing if they will ever return, Sister Stirling said.
"I feel like each of us are similarly little lambs, searching for our way home as well," she said.
She played the song at her grandfather's funeral several years ago.
"Just the thought that he's going to hear me play this song again, probably in the most beautiful forum that I could ever possibly play it, I know it is going to be a really special moment, like something I'll remember for the rest of my life," she told Ruth Todd of LDS Public Affairs in a Google Hangout interview two days before the concert.
A highlight of the concert was Brother Pacheco's performance of one of his favorite operatic selections, "Nessun Dorma," from Puccini's "Turandot."
"Even people who don't like opera tend to love this song," he said in the Google Hangout interview.
He explained to the concert audience that the opera tells the story of a young man's unrequited love toward a princess who imprisons him and sentences him to death. He nevertheless vows not only to be released but to win the princess's heart.
"I would have chosen someone who wasn't so bent on taking my life," he said, "But what it really comes down to is this song is about a man who refused to give in and refused to give up. It's about a man who chose courage instead of despair, and who, in his darkest and most hopeless moment, chose through his act of holding on to eventually overcome."
Such was the spirit and resolve of the pioneers, who were celebrated by the Choir and Orchestra at the concert with the familiar arrangement of the Mormon Trail anthem "Come, Come, Ye Saints" and by the pioneer tribute, "They, the Builders of the Nation."
Sister Stirling lent her unique stage presence to two traditional folk tunes, "Scotland the Brave" and "Simple Gifts," which she arranged with LDS musician Sam Cardon.
The two guest artists joined the choir and orchestra for the finale, a stirring rendition of "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing," arranged by the choir's music director, Mack Wilberg.
Brother Wilberg shared duties at the podium with assistant music director Ryan Murphy. Salt Lake Tabernacle organists Richard Elliott and Andrew Unsworth played the Conference Center organ and Brother Elliott drew energetic applause with his solo of Joseph Jongen's "Toccata."