The Mormon Tabernacle Choir returned to the Salt Lake City landmark that gave the choir its name with a stirring concert Friday. The event, which also spotlighted the Orchestra at Temple Square and the three Tabernacle organists, felt more like a worship service than a concert, but it's unlikely that many of the thousands in attendance were inclined to complain.
The fact that the choir was back in the Tabernacle after more than two years of seismic upgrades was itself reason to rejoice. The LDS Conference Center across the street may seat four times as many people, but it's no concert hall.
It was a thrill to hear trumpets ring out in the Tabernacle again in the "Herald and Hymn for Brasses" by Crawford Gates, one of many LDS composers featured on the program. It was an even bigger thrill when the choir made its entrance in the hymn "Redeemer of Israel."
The building's unforgiving acoustics proved a bigger challenge for the orchestra than for the singers, but ensemble problems were smoothed out quickly enough as the musicians proceeded through several numbers selected for the occasion, including Frank Asper's "This House We Dedicate to Thee"; choir associate director Mack Wilberg's brand-new "Hymn of Praise," incorporating a text by LDS poet Eliza R. Snow; Claude Debussy's "La cathedrale engloutie (The Engulfed Cathedral)," featuring members of the Bells on Temple Square and an unexpected but perfectly timed cameo by the Nauvoo Bell just outside the door.
The choir demonstrated an impressive range, singing with vigor in the "Hallelujah" from Beethoven's "Christ on the Mount of Olives" and with almost unearthly tenderness in Wilberg's "Jesu, the Very Thought Is Sweet." Tabernacle Choir music director Craig Jessop once mused that "Jesu" would be Wilberg's ticket into heaven. Friday's performance offered strong evidence.
A 10-minute documentary on the Tabernacle, featuring remarks from every LDS Church president since Brigham Young, and the roof-raising strains of "The Spirit of God" brought the evening to an emotional climax.
* WHEN: Friday; repeats tonight at 7:30.
* TICKETS: Free, but sold out; there will be a standby line at the Temple Square flagpole.
* RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes; no intermission.
* BOTTOM LINE: In a stirring concert, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir proves there's no place like home.