SALT LAKE CITY — Between talented soloists and a varied repertoire, Igor Gruppman, conductor of the Orchestra at Temple Square, hopes that the upcoming concert will not only inspire the audience to love and appreciate music, but to feel the same way toward each other as well.
The Orchestra at Temple Square will perform its sold-out semiannual concert, "An Autumn Concert" on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the Tabernacle.
Gruppman discussed how the orchestra has to do two shows because of the following it has, and even then, it sells out quickly.
The orchestra was formed in 1999 with President Gordon B. Hinckley's call to improve the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Its principal function is to accompany the choir, but the orchestra showcases the musicians' talent in two concerts a year.
"It (the talent) really shines during this symphonic concert because we tackle the most challenging and most treasured repertoire," Gruppman said.
This concert's varied selection presents Vivaldi's Concerto for Bassoon in E-flat Major (RV 483), Mozart's Symphony No. 35, Bach's aria for alto and solo violin, "Erbarme dich," from the St. Matthew Passion and the 6th movement from Mahler's Symphony No. 3.
The first half of the performance, Gruppman explained, has a lighter, happier feel to it. Christian Smith, principal bassoonist for the orchestra, selected the Vivaldi concerto that will be played in that half.
Vivaldi wrote 37 concertos for the bassoon, more than he wrote for any other instrument besides the violin, Smith explained. He referred to his selected concerto as "vintage Vivaldi," containing the composer's signature rhythmic energy. He believes this stands out as one of the better concertos.
"I'm not a scholar on Vivaldi at all, but there are certain pieces that speak to me and this is once of those, and hopefully I can communicate that to the audience," Smith said.
He's looking forward to being able to communicate it the way he said the piece was supposed to be heard: backed by a full orchestra.
Smith was asked to join the orchestra right at its conception. After working out scheduling with his doctoral studies, he joined about a year and a half later and became the principal bassoonist.
"I was very interested, especially as a musician to serve in the (LDS) Church this way," Smith said, detailing how eager he was for the opportunity to join.
Smith, a professor at Brigham Young University, has also played with the Utah Symphony, Utah Opera, Ballet West Orchestra and Flint Symphony in Michigan, just to name a few.
Despite his accomplishment, Smith remains humble about the soloing opportunity.
"I was delighted to be asked," he said. "Hopefully I can rise to the occasion."
The musician was quick to point out that soloing opportunities in these performances don't come along often, if at all. He's been with the orchestra for 10 years now, and it's his first solo. He's grateful for the chance.
Gruppman is pleased to have Smith soloing: "He's an amazing part of our team — our family — a wonderful artist,."
Mozart's Symphony No. 35 will round out Part 1 of the concert. Gruppman referred to it as a joyous piece, full of social and musical commentary and a sense of humor.
The second half of the concert will contain more contemplative and deeply spiritual works.
"Erbarme dich," or "Have mercy, Lord," will feature Mormon Tabernacle Choir veteran Laura Garff Lewis as the soloist. Gruppman, also a renowned violinist, will accompany her. Gruppman and Lewis are both thrilled that Lewis will be united with the orchestra in a performance again.
Among other credits, Lewis has soloed with the Utah Symphony, Salt Lake Chorale Artists and Utah Opera. She sang with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for 10 years and soloed often. One notable performance was in the closing hymn of the closing ceremonies in the 2002 Winter Olympics. She retired from the choir a year ago.
"I'm just delighted to be part of it," Lewis said of this performance. "The orchestra has been such an asset for the choir. I've enjoyed my association with them over the years. "
"Erbarme dich" is just a small piece of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, one of many oratorios written about Jesus' passion to celebrate Holy Week during the Baroque period. The aria is sung following a narrative depicting Peter denying Christ a third time and realizing it fulfilled what had been predicted. Peter leaves weeping.
"Have mercy Lord," the translated lyrics read. "My God, because of this my weeping! Look thou here, heart and eyes now weep for thee bitterly.
"It's a beautiful piece asking for mercy from the Lord," Lewis explained, applying it to themes of repentance and forgiveness Gruppman had discussed. "It can resonate with anyone."
The orchestra will also perform the movement from Mahler's Symphony No. 3 as part of the second half.
"It is really a musical allegory of what it would be to meet God," Gruppman said of the piece. "It's an amazing composition." He said the movement is a "really beautiful portrayal of heaven and exaltation."
Gruppman finds the juxtaposition of Bach's and Mahler's works very appropriate. Though the pieces are near opposite in subject and instrumentation, Gruppman believes the messages and feelings of the works are undeniably connected and equally inspirational.
"It's like musical scriptures, really," he said, adding later, "It is not just entertaining, but inspiring."
"An Autumn Concert" is sold out. The orchestra will appear accompanying the choir in a variety of concerts and venues in coming months.
To follow updates about next year's spring concert and when tickets will be made available or to learn more about the orchestra, visit mormontabernaclechoir.org.