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Review: Salt Lake Symphony, Red Rock Rondo, has a not-so-secret gift

Published December 18, 2011 11:05 am

Review • Heartwarming song cycle is the centerpiece of holiday program.
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The Salt Lake Symphony celebrated the season of giving on Saturday with a heartwarming concert dedicated to the proposition that one person can make a difference.

The concert's centerpiece was the newly orchestrated version of Phillip Bimstein's song cycle "A Secret Gift," based on Ted Gup's book of the same name that tells the true story of an Ohio man — Gup's maternal grandfather, Sam Stone — who gave anonymous gifts to people in need in 1933. Bimstein noted that this performance fell on the 78th anniversary of the day when Stone hatched the idea of placing a newspaper ad offering to send $5 checks to those who wrote letters to a "B. Virdot" explaining why they needed the money. He sent out 150 of those checks.

Stone's identity remained a secret until three years ago, when his daughter Virginia Gup Sharpe gave a suitcase full of the letters to Gup, who in turn tracked down the recipients' descendants and told their stories. Sharpe's presence in Libby Gardner Concert Hall on Saturday seemed like a lovely gift in itself.

Bimstein and his chamber-folk ensemble, Red Rock Rondo, joined the Salt Lake Symphony and the West Jordan High School Choir to perform the songs, some of which are taken directly from the letters. The six-member ensemble, singing and playing piano, guitars, oboe, violin, upright bass and other instruments, fit seamlessly with the orchestra and choir. The colors of Bimstein's, Kate MacLeod's and Hal Cannon's voices blended with the students' in a most charming way; the instrumental accompaniment deftly evoked 1930s America. (Other Red Rock Rondo members are Charlotte Bell, Flavia Cervino-Wood and Harold Carr.)

The attentive student singers, impeccably prepared by Kelly DeHaan, also joined conductor Robert Baldwin and his volunteer orchestra in a handful of other songs on the theme of giving, including a suite from the beloved film "It's a Wonderful Life," "We Need a Little Christmas" and "Let There Be Peace on Earth." —

Salt Lake Symphony

Phillip Bimstein's song cycle "A Secret Gift" and other seasonal selections.

With • Conductor Robert Baldwin, Red Rock Rondo and the West Jordan High School Choir with director Kelly DeHaan.

Where • Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah.

When • Saturday, Dec. 17.






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