Memorable holiday concerts require thoughtful programming, gifted musicians and a certain indefinable spark that melds talent with the musical score in a magical way. That spark was provided by Salt Lake Choral Artists' director Brady Allred Saturday in concerts at the University of Utah's Libby Gardner Hall.
The concert's first half was organized in the format of "Nine Lessons and Carols," presented annually at King's College, Cambridge, England. But SLCA's version ended up with seven lessons and 10 carols with narrator Ron Gunnell reading the lessons, which are biblical references foretelling the birth of Jesus Christ and New Testament text describing events surrounding the birth. Despite a few slips, Gunnell proved a fine narrator, but several different voices may have created more diversity and interest maybe even someone with a proper British accent as a nod to the original service.
The carols, sung by the organization's Women's, Concert and Chamber choirs, consisted mostly of compositions and arrangements by young New York composer Dan Forrest. His work is superb choral writing with well-considered voice leading and often a climactic punch, like his arrangement of "The First Noel." This type of music is especially welcome during the holidays, and it is easy to understand why this piece is his best-selling work full of spine-tingling moments.