Cultural Olympiad on Temple Square

The Winter Games have attracted the best to Salt Lake City, and that includes not only athletes but also musicians as was demonstrated in a concert of the 2002 Cultural Olympiad Feb. 9 in the Tabernacle on Temple Square.

Nothing less than "stunning" could describe the Signature Series concert by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square, with Craig Jessop conducting and special guests Frederica von Stade, John Williams, and the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets. The Salt Lake-based International Children's Choir added to the program's theme, "America Welcomes the World!"

From the introductory "Bugler's Dream" to the encore "Battle Hymn of the Republic," the concert delighted the audience of some 4,000 music lovers. Among those attending were President Gordon B. Hinckley and his wife, Marjorie; President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, and his wife, Frances; President Boyd K. Packer, Acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve, and his wife, Donna, and members of the Quorum of the Twelve and their wives.

One would be at a loss as to what part of the program to give highest superlatives of praise. Ms. von Stade, described by the New York Times as "one of America's finest artists and singers," practically captivated the audience with her program, which included music by Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland. With the choir, she performed selections by Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, George Gershwin and Cole Porter.

Few musicians today are as acclaimed as Mr. Williams, recipient of five Oscars, three British Academy Awards, 18 Grammys and three Golden Globes. He has received 39 Academy Award nominations. He composed music and served as a music director for more than 90 films, including Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Superman and Indiana Jones movies, the current and upcoming Harry Potter movies, and Schindler's List, E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He composed music for the 2002 Winter Games theme, as well as themes for three other Olympics. He has composed concert pieces, the NBC theme "The Mission," and "Liberty Fanfare" for the rededication of the Statue of Liberty.

children at choir concert
children at choir concert Credit: Photo by Gerry Avant

Conducting three of his compositions, Mr. Williams demonstrated why so many honors have come his way, why his works have received superior ratings. He directed the choir and orchestra in a selection he composed for Amistad, "Dry Your Tears, Afrika," which featured the children's choir; and his composition of the 2002 Olympic Theme "Call of the Champions." He directed the orchestra in "The Cowboys Overture."

Directed by Lt. Col. Tony W. Cason, the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets were featured in "Olympic Fanfare and Theme," which is played at all Olympic events, as well as other selections during the program. Their musical precision and military sharpness added an official and festive flare to the event.

The choir and orchestra could have gone head-to-head with any such organizations, had this been a contest and not a concert. Points weren't awarded, but they turned in gold-medal performances. Members of the choir especially performed heroically given an arduous schedule during preceding weeks.

As they left the Tabernacle, many in the audience expressed as much enthusiasm and delight on the Cultural Olympiad's opening night as sports fans would show over the start of the Games.

On Sunday morning, Ms. von Stade and the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets participated with the choir in its Music and Spoken Word broadcast and an encore concert that followed.

Leaving the Tabernacle, President Hinckley paused to speak with Ms. von Stade and thanked her for participating.

"Oh, what a thrill!" Ms. von Stade exclaimed afterward. "No one can describe just being here, and having President Hinckley [here] meant a lot. It's a great gift of song that the choir has given to the world, and to be part of it is a great honor, as well as a great joy. It means a lot more to me than anyone can imagine."

John Williams and Frederica von Stade take bows at end of concert.
John Williams and Frederica von Stade take bows at end of concert. Credit: Photo by Gerry Avant

Of conducting during the concert Saturday evening, Mr. Williams said, "It's thrilling to stand in front of 350 members of the chorus and be able to direct them, and just imbibe that sound that comes over the chorus when you hear it. It's very beautiful and very exciting — a thrilling thing."

Mr. Williams said he had listened to the choir all his life and long admired it. He heard the Orchestra at Temple Square — which was formed in 1999 — for the first time at a rehearsal for the concert. "They were fantastic, very well prepared," he said. He admitted to having some misgivings initially about conducting an "amateur" orchestra. Since many in the group are professional musicians who volunteer their time, he suggested that with the Orchestra at Temple Square and the Tabernacle Choir the original definition be applied to amateur — one who follows a pursuit out of love rather than monetary reward.

"There's a spirit there that's different from the commercial feeling that you would have from a studio group, an ad hoc group that's hired," he said. "These are people who are there for the joy of music, or for their own spiritual need to live through music. One feels that.

"These people are so committed to what they play and sing that as a conductor you're almost three-quarters of the way there. Part of the conductor's job is to bring people up. We can all do the notes. You need to get beyond the notes, and infuse them . . . with whatever the spiritual content of the music seems to be. We're already there with these people. They want to be there. It's not a job with them. It's a mission. It's a privilege for them."

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