Choir broadcast helps launch new performing arts theater in Salt Lake City

A resplendent performing arts theater in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City is the newest gem in the Utah capital’s treasury of the arts. And the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, one of the oldest gems in that treasury, helped launch the theater on Sunday, Oct. 23, with that week’s performance of the “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast.

The live broadcast capped a weekend of grand opening events for the George S. and Delores Doré Eccles Theater, located at 131 S. Main Street. In addition to the choir, the Orchestra at Temple Square was included in the performance, with singers and musicians packed tightly on the stage of the theater’s 2,500 seat Delta Performance Hall.

“This really is a historic event,” announcer Lloyd D. Newell said just after the signoff of the program, noting that it marks the first time in the 88-year history of the broadcast that it has originated from a Salt Lake venue other than the Salt Lake Tabernacle or the LDS Conference Center.

“What a fitting event to do it from this beautiful new theater,” he said.

Just before the program began, Brother Newell noted that the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square, just a short distance from the new theater, was filled with an overflow audience watching a live transmission of the program.

The broadcast was being carried on some 2,000 television, radio and cable stations over the world, and the the program is seen by millions each week, including live video streaming.

Brother Newell’s “Spoken Word” message, which for technical reasons was pre-recorded a week earlier, carried an arts theme in keeping with the occasion.

“Art can be powerful and stirring, and it can be quiet and simple,” he said. “It can move us and calm us. It can inspire and console us. Art helps us to ponder life’s great questions and appreciate its lighter side. It can lift us when we’re feeling down and open our eyes and hearts to the needs of those who suffer. Indeed, the arts illuminate the human condition, fostering more empathetic people and more compassionate communities.”

Selections on the program included the American folk hymn “Saints Bound for Heaven,” a unique arrangement by music director Mack Wilberg of the hymn “The Lord My Pasture Will Prepare,” the majestic Charles Gounod composition “Unfold Ye Portals” and the Broadway selection “On a Wonderful Day Like Today.”

In an interview following the program, Max Burdick said he conceived the idea several months ago to have the broadcast cap a weekend of grand opening events for the theater. He is the chairman of the nine-member Utah Performing Arts Center advisory board.

It seemed too much to hope for at first, but executive director Katheryn Potter went to work on it, hammered out negotiations with the choir management, secured sponsorship funding from Zion’s Bank, and the dream became a reality, he said.

“As I walked in here this morning, all those thoughts rushed through my mind, and I realized that this is it and it’s happening,” the emotional board chairman said. “I was just overwhelmed with emotion, and the Spirit was so strong here.”

He said obstacles had been overcome with the two-year construction of the theater.

“It’s like we built this special, beautiful house, and when I listened to this beautiful orchestra and choir in a beautiful facility, it just all came together, and it was overwhelming.”

He said the theater has been met with a phenomenal public response, with the sale of 14,000 season-tickets surpassing the initial goal of 8,500.

A Saturday open house with an array of “drop-in” local entertainment drew some 10,000 visitors.

In addition to the performance hall with its main level plus three tiers of seats, the state-of-the-art theater includes an intimate black-box theater, event and rehearsal spaces, a multi-story grand lobby, an outdoor plaza and an immense Galleria that connects the theater to an adjacent new high-rise office tower.

Operated by the Salt Lake County Center for the Arts, the theater is co-owned by the county and Salt Lake City.

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