This wasn't your grandma's Pioneer Day concert.
New president Ron Jarrett promised to update the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's image and reach out to a wider audience, and this weekend's annual pioneer salute showed that he wasn't kidding. The choir was savvy enough to book dubstep violinist Lindsey Stirling just months after her YouTube breakout (she had one of the site's top 10 videos in 2012). Star-in-the-making Nathan Pacheco shared top billing with Stirling in an upbeat, youth-oriented show that brought together opera, pop-rock, Broadway and even a couple of good old-fashioned pioneer hymns.
It's difficult to evaluate a production in the 21,000-seat Conference Center on its musical merits, but Friday's concert certainly entertained the crowd. There was something for nearly every taste. If the charm of "The Secret Garden" eludes you, no worries; just wait for the Rossini. The 360-voice choir's lively performance of "Cum Sancto Spiritu" from the Italian composer's "Petite Messe Solennelle" was one of the evening's highlights. And the Tabernacle Choir's own rock star, organist Richard Elliott, brought down the house when he joined the Orchestra at Temple Square in a rousing movement from Joseph Jongen's Symphonie Concertante.
The guests were equally well-received. Stirling played one of her own compositions, "Elements," while skipping, twirling and high-stepping through a fog of dry ice, with long streamers trailing from her bow arm for added effect. She then played Tod Galloway's "Poor Little Lambs" as a sweet tribute to her late grandfather, explaining that he learned the song during his service in World War II and the Korean War. A generously ornamented mashup of "Scotland the Brave" and "Simple Gifts," with backup vocals from the choir, rounded out Stirling's contribution.
Pacheco charmed the audience with his personable stage presence and smooth "popera" voice (imagine if Josh Groban had a higher-voiced kid brother). His opera training was most evident in his high notes, but his presentation was always approachable. He livened up his performance of the obligatory tenor aria "Nessun dorma" by recapping the story of "Turandot," the opera from which it came, and instructing audience members to join in on the chorus part and darned if they didn't oblige.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square present their annual Pioneer Day concerts.
With • Violinist Lindsey Stirling, singer Nathan Pacheco and conductor Mack Wilberg.
When • Reviewed Friday; repeated Saturday.
Where • LDS Conference Center, 60 W. North Temple, Salt Lake City.
Also • The guest artists will join the choir on its weekly broadcast of "Music and the Spoken Word" Sunday at 9:30 a.m. from the Conference Center. Audience must be seated by 9 a.m.