KURT BESTOR, Christmas XXII, Abravanel Hall, through Saturday (801-355-2787 or www.arttix.org)
The house lights go down, and puffy balls of light appear on the stage. The first strains of music reach out and wrap you in the warmth of the season.
Before long the hall is filled to the brim with music — joyous, powerful, bold, tender music.
This is a "Kurt Bestor Christmas." A holiday tradition in Salt Lake City for 22 years now, it is more than a concert; it is an experience, a musical journey filled with great music, good humor, a blend of old favorites and new arrangements, and an abundance of spirit. And so it was Thursday night at Abravanel Hall.
Whether he was serving up a Celtic version of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"; paying tribute to Utah's snow; giving "The Christmas Song" a flugelhorn twist; or singing a duet on a brand-new Christmas carol with his daughter Erika, Bestor entertained and amazed, sharing his versatility, his musicality and his love of the season.
Special guest Jason Castro brought the distinct sound and flair that earned him a high ranking on "American Idol" to seasonal favorites. His tender and mournful voice was perfect for a new arrangement of "What Child Is This," and hecaptured the flavor of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" with grace and emotion. He also introduced a newer song, "Glory in the Highest" that also resonated with spirit.
Equally touching was the Ukrainian flute rendering of Shubert's "Ave Marie" by Pasha Gledhill, a newly adopted teen now making his home in Draper.
The Salt Lake Children's Choir, under the direction of Ralph Woodward, added their angelic voices to songs such as "Joy to the World" and Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." Choir member Jacob Kenison stepped into the spotlight for a tender "Some Children See Him."
But for all the moments of seasonal softness; there were also moments to rock out.
Bass player Carlitos del Puerto and drummer Eric Valentine generated the rhythm and beat of Cuban music in a "Christmas Cubanisimo" number (even blindfolded, Valentine can hit those drums). The whole orchestra was featured, section by section, in a rousing version of "The 12 Days of Christmas."
Daron Bradford set a world record for the most woodwinds used by one player in a song, when he played 24 instruments in a "Christmas Concerto." And there was the traditional rendering of " 'Twas The Night Before Christmas," using a narrator borrowed from the audience reading to a movie soundtrack.
Bestor noted that all his guests (well, except for that one), were not even born when Bestor started his music career; but added that youthful musicians such of these are symbolic of the hope and peace and joy of the season.
And that's what a Bestor Christmas is all about.