Like the best-known example of its genre, Handel's "Messiah," Brett Stewart's 90-minute, 34-movement work uses scriptural texts as its libretto.
But unlike Handel, who drew from various Bible passages to tell a three-part story of messianic prophecy and fulfillment, Stewart stuck to a single book of scripture: 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon. To incorporate prophecy and aftermath, as Handel did, would have made for too long an evening, Brandon Stewart explained. So "Messiah in America" deals only with the decline and destruction of the Nephite civilization, followed by the resurrected Christ's visit.
"The melodies are super-infectious, not avant-garde," Brandon Stewart said, noting that some of the music might remind listeners of Prokofiev or Shostakovich, but that's as far as it goes; otherwise, the style is more reminiscent of composers such as Brahms, Handel and Bach.
The Stewart brothers started a choral organization comprising four youth choirs, an adult choir and an orchestra in their native Orange County, Calif., in 2007 after earning college degrees in music (Brett has a bachelor's in piano performance from Brigham Young University and master's and doctorate degrees in choral conducting from California State University at Long Beach and the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, respectively; Brandon has a bachelor's from BYU and a master's from the Juilliard School, both in piano performance).
In 2009, they created a sister organization, following the same model, in the Mesa, Ariz., area. "That one snowballed even faster," said Brandon Stewart, who eventually moved his family to Arizona to direct the choirs there, while his brother continues to run the show in California.
"Mormon" is part of the organization's name to reflect the LDS Church's strong tradition of music-making and choral singing in particular, but musicians needn't be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to join. "It's very much an open-door policy," Brandon Stewart said. "It's an interfaith effort. Easily 30 percent to 40 percent of our audience is not LDS."
Regardless of denomination, he said, all choir members are expected to continue participating in their own church choirs. "One of our main purposes is to help build sacred music. Otherwise, what we do [onstage] is pointless."
'Messiah in America'
The Mormon Choral Organizations of America will present a new oratorio by Brett Stewart.
When • Friday, June 3, at 7:30 p.m. in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square
Also • Saturday, June 4, at 2 p.m. in Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
Tickets • Sold out, but there will be a standby line at the Temple Square flagpole on Friday. Admission is free.