Pianist Josh Wright looks at hymns and classical pieces in a new, spiritual way

By Stephanie Moreton

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, April 9 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

Pianist Josh Wright has created a self-titled album that balances hymns, classical favorites and combinations of the two.

Butch Adams, Shadow Mountain Records

At only 23, Josh Wright has already formed a very accomplished and decorated career as a pianist.

However, it was his time serving in the South Dakota Rapid City Mission from 2007 to 2009 that brought him to where he is today.

Some passions get put on hold during a two-year LDS mission, but Wright's love for arranging music amplified during his mission. As a missionary, he organized many musical presentations and found a love for praising the Lord through music.

"On my mission, I started doing a lot of hymn arranging," Wright said. "I was able to reach an audience that may not have been receptive otherwise. When I got home, I had the idea to combine classical pieces with hymns. That turned out to be a really fun and interesting project."

Together with Emmy-winning producer Sam Cardon, Wright has created a self-titled album that balances hymns, classical favorites and combinations of the two.

"It is my humble and sincere hope that every person who hears this album can find personal meaning and a renewed strength, even in arrangements that may seem foreign or distant at first," he said.

And that is what makes Wright's album so unique: his arrangements.

Arrangements can diminish the two individual songs; however, Wright succeeds in making two powerful songs even more powerful together. Wright's arrangement of "How Great Thou Art" combined with Debussy's "Clair De Lune" is a magnificently strong piece.

Other compilations on the album include "Abide With Me, Tis Eventide" combined with Rachmaninoff's "Concerto No. 2 in C Minor" and "Nearer, My God, to Thee" with Chopin's "Nocturne in D-Flat Major."

Arranging the hymns to fit the specific style of the composer proved most challenging for Wright.

"(It was difficult) with Debussy arranging the hymn in style so that it was seamless," he said. "Sam helped me a lot with that. It was a team effort."

Producer Cardon said success came because he and Wright brought different strengths to the process.

"I had tremendous respect for his gifts and he for my experience," Cardon said.

Ranging from "All Creatures of Our God and King" to Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" and Satie's "Gynopedi No. 1," the album explores "peace, elegance and warmth" to all those who listen.

"It's a very accessible record that everyone will be rewarded by listening to it," Cardon said. "It's easy on the ears, with a universal appeal."

The album finishes with Liszt's "La Campanella," arguably one of the most challenging piano pieces. As if it wasn't hard enough, Wright produced a video to bring a different twist to the piece: playing it on two pianos simultaneously.

"That was a really fun project that we came up with. Something new and creative that would be eye-catching."

If anyone has played it before, Wright said, they'll know just how hard this feat is as one hand is totally blind at all times. The video can be viewed on his website.

Wright will next perform at the Assembly Hall on Temple Square on Friday, April 15, at 7:30 p.m. This free event is open to ages 8 and older. Tickets are not needed.

The album was released April 5 and can be purchased at any Deseret Book location or on iTunes. For performance or booking information, visit www.joshwrightpiano.com.

If you go...

Where: Temple Square Assembly Hall

When: April 15. 7:30 p.m.

How much: Free (no children under 8)

E-mail: smoreton@desnews.com

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