Leaders of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square announced Friday, Nov. 12, a pair of special holiday gifts for fans who count down the days each year until the iconic choir’s annual Christmas concert broadcast.
On Monday, Dec. 13, the debut of “20 Years of Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir” will air on PBS TV and stream on PBS.org at 7 p.m. Mountain Time, with several reairings to follow.
Choir leaders also detailed Friday the choir’s plans to record the 2022 iteration of the annual Christmas concert during several closed television taping sessions next month. Due to the ongoing pandemic, only a small, masked and socially distanced audience will be present in the Conference Center, following the pattern of recent general conference sessions and the upcoming First Presidency’s Christmas Devotional.
The choir’s guest artists for the 2022 Christmas program will include actors Megan Hilty and Neal McDonough.
2021 Choir Christmas program
The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square’s Christmas musical event for 2021 will be a unique, two-hour retrospective television special and internet stream titled “20 Years of Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir” with Tony Award winner Brian Stokes Mitchell as narrator.
“Every year, the Christmas concert by The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square is a gift to the world from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” said choir President Mike Leavitt in a Friday news release. “This year, our gift is this 20th anniversary special with highlights from two decades of concerts celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.
“Since COVID precluded holding and recording a live Christmas concert last December, we are extremely pleased to continue our decadeslong tradition of Christmas programming on PBS, with this exceptional broadcast.”
Music director Mack Wilberg added that putting the retrospective together was a remarkable, unexpected journey.
“The difficult part was selecting what should be included, given the wealth of material we had to work with,” he said. “We also wanted to provide the interesting story of how the Christmas concert has been put together, featuring not only the army of volunteer performers from the choir organization, but also the many world-class guest artists we have had the privilege of working with over the past 20 years.”
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As the program’s narrator, Mitchell demonstrates that what happens in the Conference Center every Christmas is “more than just the wide range of musical periods and genres and the diversity of guest artists,” according to the news release.
It is about bringing all people together for Christmas.
Viewers will see never-before-seen additions to past Christmas concert content — including Mitchell’s performance of a new Wilberg arrangement of “That’s What Christmas Means to Me” with Wilberg at the piano; a new Richard Elliott organ solo — an adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s “Trepak” from Nutcracker Suite; and a rendition of “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly” recorded using a socially distanced Orchestra at Temple Square and separately recorded selfie videos of individual choir members compiled as they float onto the screen in a virtual choir.
As Mitchell tells his audience: “The message of Christmas is universal… . The music, the stories, the singing, the dancing and the sharing are all a reminder that the birth of Jesus Christ is about peace and goodwill for everyone. It’s why the joy of Christmas really is joy to all the world.”
“20 Years of Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir” will air and stream on PBS TV and PBS.org on Monday, Dec. 13, at 7 p.m. Mountain Time with a reairing on PBS TV at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 24.
BYUtv and BYUtv.org will air and stream the program on Thursday, Dec, 16, at 7 p.m. with reairings on BYUtv on Sunday, Dec.19, at 5 p.m; Friday, Dec, 24, at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, Dec. 25, at 1:35 p.m.
Since 2004, the choir’s Christmas specials have become a beloved PBS tradition where the programs have consistently ranked as the most-viewed PBS holiday programs, the release noted. BYUtv has worked with the Tabernacle Choir since 2017 to bring the specials to PBS, working hand-in-hand with partner station GBH — the largest creator of PBS content for TV and the web.
The full two-hour special plus over 30 minutes of bonus features are on a DVD titled “20 Years of Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir” available for order now. Audio recordings of most of the music from the special — either songs in the special or another choir and orchestra recording of the same title — can be streamed on a Spotify playlist titled “20 Years of Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir.”
Looking ahead to Christmas 2022
Again in 2021, health challenges persist for live concerts with audiences and performers.
“The Tabernacle Choir organization has been gratified to slowly return, step-by-step, to rehearsals, general conference participation and, recently, to live broadcasts of ‘Music & the Spoken Word,’ all with strict health protocols — but still without [traditional] audiences in attendance,” said President Leavitt.
As a further step in that progression, he added, to create a Christmas with the Tabernacle Choir TV special for PBS and BYUtv for 2022, the choir, Orchestra at Temple Square and Bells at Temple Square will hold several closed TV taping sessions in December in front of a small, socially distanced audience, comprised primarily of choir organization members’ families.
Guest artist Hilty is perhaps most recognizable for her portrayal of Ivy Lynn in NBC’s musical drama “Smash.” A Tony nominee, she is a versatile performer both on stage and on screen.
Hilty starred in “Patsy & Loretta” on Lifetime, which earned her a Critics Choice Award for best actress in a limited series. Her television credits include Hulu’s “Difficult People,” the final season of CBS’ “The Good Wife” and “The Good Fight” for CBS All Access.
On stage, Hilty is known for her Broadway performances as Glinda the Good Witch in “Wicked” and received critical acclaim for her role as Brooke Ashton in the revival of “Noises Off,” garnering nominations for a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award and Drama League Award and won her a Broadway.com Audience Award for favorite featured actress in a play.
McDonough, meanwhile, is an award-winning actor who has been seen in over 100 films, including the Christian film “Greater,” “Captain America,” “Forever Strong” and “The Warrant” and nearly 1,000 hours of major television dramas — including many seasons as Sean Cahill in the hit TV series “Suits” and Robert Zemekis’s “Project Blue Book.”
He also recently finished stage runs as Daddy Warbucks in ”Annie” and the title role in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”