A musical 'gift of Christmas' with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert

Published: Friday, Dec. 16 2011 11:00 p.m. MST

Choir Music Director Mack Wilberg, actress Jane Seymour and singer Nathan Gunn speak at a news conference at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 16, 2011. Seymour and Gunn are the guest performers for this year's Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — As audiences have been dazzled by the performances at this year's Christmas concert of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra at Temple Square and Bells on Temple Square, the guest artists have been thrilled by the whole experience.

"For me, this is the gift of Christmas," said British actress Jane Seymour in a news conference Friday, the morning after the dress rehearsal of the concert in the LDS Conference Center.

"To be doing something that is so heartwarming and so necessary at this time, to be involved in a program that lifts people's spirits up, especially when the year's been really tough for a lot of people" is the essence of the holiday for Seymour, "the universal message of giving and receiving love."

Operatic baritone Nathan Gunn, the other guest artist, agreed. "What is really wonderful about being here, and what adds to that element of giving is that everybody's volunteering," he said.

"Everybody who's here wants to be here. You don't have people running away from rehearsal. They're actually showing up early. Every single person I've spoken to, whether they're working backstage or they're in the choir or in the orchestra, have a smile on their face and really giving of themselves. That is palpable, and is something that, for me personally, helps lift up a performance to a higher level."

For nearly a decade, each annual concert has been recorded for nationwide presentation the following year over PBS stations. This year's event began with an announcement about the program's pre-eminence in the yuletide market.

"It gives me great pleasure tonight to announce that this program has become the No. 1-rated entertainment program on PBS during the holidays, with more than 4 million Americans tuning in to watch it each year," said Paula Kerger, PBS president.

Kerger flew in from Washington, D.C., to make the announcement at the Thursday night dress rehearsal of the concert, an event which, in its own right, drew a near-capacity audience in the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City.

The PBS broadcast of the concert, which also features the Orchestra at Temple Square and the Bells on Temple Square, originates with member station KUED in Salt Lake City.

"Through this program millions of Americans have witnessed what PBS does best," Kerger said, "and that is to use the magic of television to showcase music, dance and the spoken word to inspire and entertain like nothing else can. And remarkably, just like the price of your admission ticket, it's broadcast free to millions of people, many of whom in these turbulent times are in dire need of a holiday cheer and sparkle that Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir provides."

An elaborate stage set with stone castle towers, stained-glass windows and flocked evergreens hinted at the program's overall theme. The opening processional featured young dancers in red-and-gold medieval costumes performing to "Sing Forth This Day," a composition by the choir's musical director Mack Wilberg.

Consistent with the theme was a high point in the program, Semour's recounting of the legend of "Good King Wenceslas," accompanied by the choir performing Wilberg's arrangement of that well-known Christmas song.

At the news conference, Seymour said she did not know until late in the planning that she would be involved in that segment.

"I think it was genius," she said, "to come up with that for me, because that really is my story, my message. And it's a broad message, not specific to any one culture or religion either. It's just a beautiful, universal story."

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