KURT BESTOR, Abravanel Hall, additional performances through Saturday 355-2787)

Kurt Bestor's 19th annual Christmas concert begins with the sound of angels — the Salt Lake Children's Choir, under the direction of Ralph Woodward, singing ethereal glorias.

The mood shifts slightly, as Bestor takes up the harmonica to capture the poignancy and wonder of wandering "out under the sky."

And once again, as he and his rhythm section combine German influences with Jamaican style as they pay lively tribute to the Christmas tree.

You soon realize how many styles and genres can be used with one goal in mind: capture the spirit of the season. By night's end, you will have heard everything from jazz to classical to Celtic, New Age, gospel, ragtime and more. You will have tapped your toes, clapped along, joined in on a few choruses, laughed at some jokes. And you will have sat in wonder and appreciation at the parade of talent that has crossed in front of you.

In addition to celebrating Christmas, Bestor set out to make the concert "Utah-centric" this year by highlighting some local performers. Not the least of which was Erica Richardson, winner of Bestor's Best Singer Search, a competition that brought more than 550 performers throughout the state to auditions. Richardson brought the audience to its feet with her powerful gospelesque rendition of "O, Come All Ye Faithful."

Ray Smith, head of BYU's jazz department, had an equally high wow-factor, playing sax on "Good King Wenceslas." So did fiddle player Sam Bigney, who dazzled with his Cape Breton-style play. Woodwind artist Daron Bradford just may have set a world record by playing some 19 different woodwind instruments on one number, a "Christmas Concerto." Erika Bestor joined her dad and the children's choir for a beautiful new arrangement of "Prayer of the Children."

They all sang and played with skill and accomplishment equal to any you'll find.

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The concert (or maybe we should say party) included new twists on old favorites such as "The Night Before Christmas." Bestor's original carol, "On Angel Wing" gave new voice to heavenly messengers. Both band and orchestra captured the essence of Bestor's beautiful orchestrations and rollicking rhythms.

As you leave the concert hall, you can't help but think of the admonishment to "make a joyful noise," and how completely it has been filled. There has been good music, good humor, good times, but above all, there has been the joyful sound of the season.


E-mail: carma@desnews.com