Christmas is a season of hope, and one of the most exciting ways to express that is through the joy and exuberance of youth, says Kurt Bestor.
Perhaps it has something to do with the perspective he gains when his 2-year-old daughter pokes her head over the top of her crib and says, "Poppy." His heart melts. He finds himself taking an hour he didn't think he had to play with her.
"My total focus is on her smile and her freshness and total innocence," Bestor says. "It is so hopeful, and it makes me smile. I can't be Poppy and be cranky and stressed."
It also makes him think of that other baby, the one we honor at this time of year. The innocence and purity of that child not only affected humble shepherds. It also touched kings, Bestor says.
"The smile of that child, and of all children, represent great hope for all mankind."
So, as it came time to start planning this year's annual Christmas concert, Bestor's thoughts turned less to the epic sweep of Christmas and more to the humble child.
And when it came time to line up special guests, he found himself thinking in "a purposeful, youthful direction."
"It has occurred to me that every one of my specials guests this year was not even born when I started my music career," he says.
Those special guests include Jason Castro, a contestant on the seventh season of "American Idol," whose singer/songwriter appeal landed him a top-three finish. "I remember sitting on the couch watching him, thinking he had such a cool voice. He's only 22, but I think people will be struck by the authentic maturity and spell-binding intimacy of his voice," Bestor says. "It has been a treat to do some special arrangements for him."
A first-generation American of Colombian descent, Castro started out as a drummer. But he couldn't play them in his college dorm room, so he bought a guitar and taught himself to play. He toured with "American Idols LIVE" in 2008 and has recently released his second album, "Who I Am," with Atlantic Records.
A second special guest will be a young man named Pasha Gledhill, who was adopted from the Ukraine when he was 14.
"I got an e-mail from his dad saying I ought to hear Pasha play the Ukrainian flute," Bestor says. "I did, and I knew we had to have him on the show."
Pasha had been in an orphanage all his life. "When he was adopted by a Utah family, he only brought two things with him: his flute and his little sister, who was also adopted. He's maybe ever played for 25-50 people at the most. It is going to be so exciting to see him step out on the stage at Abravanel Hall. I think it will also make the audience say the future is bright."
A third youthful touch to the concert will be the return of the Salt Lake Children's Choir, which features singers age 8 to 13. "They also show us how important youth is," says Bestor. "They have such pure voices."
This infusion of young, new talent will "provide a little Christmas transfusion," he says. "Their young, unpolished spirits are invigorating."
Bestor will also have a full orchestra comprising some of Utah's top musicians; bassist Carlos del Puerto (who has recently been on the road with Bruce Springsteen) will return. Bestor will present his 15th original Christmas carol; he promises "more tunes for trumpet and flute"; he conducted a contest to find a special reader for his " 'Twas the Night" presentation; and he'll also unveil a "surprise song," of which he will only say, "there's an app for that!"
Never one to be left behind by technology, he says, the set-design (which he says he got the idea for while walking through IKEA) will again incorporate three large video screens to provide close-up views of performers.
This will be the 22nd year for Bestor's annual Christmas concerts in Salt Lake City. With that much experience behind him, it would be easy to pull out a lot of the same-old, same-old. But he works hard to keep his concert fresh and new. "I'm getting into the heavy Roman numerals now," he jokes. "But there are now so many options. I feel I owe it to my supporters to add new things, to hope there is something that will take your breath away."
There is nothing quite like the live, unedited experience you get from a live concert, he says; something that lets you say, "I was there."
This concert, he says, will be filled with "a lot of hope, a lot of promise. We need a good dose of that. We need to take things where they start and hope they will get better. It always takes a little action, but when happiness and peace come, they are even better."
Bestor has been told that he is too idealistic, that he trusts too much. But, he says, "there are too many people who are glad to bring you down. I want to believe there is a Santa, that there can be peace on earth. Don't tell me there is no hope, that's life's too dark. I'll just want to turn on the light."
Bestor's Christmas concert will take place next weekend at Abravanel Hall. He has also created a smaller, intimate performance called "One Silent Night," that he will perform in Park City on Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day in St. George (Dec. 22) and has played in several cities throughout the Northwest. He will also present a holiday concert in Ogden on Dec. 15, as a benefit for the McKay-Dee Hospital Foundation (www.weber.edu/browningcenter).
If you go
What: Kurt Bestor Christmas Concert
When: Dec. 16, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 17 and 18, 8 p.m.
Where: Abravanel Hall
How much: $17.50-$32.50