UTAH SYMPHONY WITH JUBILANT SYKES, Keith Lockhart directing, Abravanel Hall on Friday, Nov. 23. Additional performance Nov. 24, 8 p.m. Tickets available through ArtTix at 355-ARTS.

It's rare to find singers who are able to perform popular music equally as well as classical. Jubilant Sykes is one such vocalist who can do both. Quite frankly, this young baritone is in a class by himself.

Sykes sings classical music with a natural flair and ease that puts new meaning to well-known works. But his performances of popular music, whether it's jazz, folk songs or spirituals, is no less impressive.

At Friday's Utah Symphony pops concert, Sykes showed off his talent and versatility. The concert also reunited him with Keith Lockhart, with whom Sykes has collaborated a couple of times in the past.

Sykes is a tremendous singer. He has a fantastic voice that's expressive and dramatic at the same time. And his vocal range is equally remarkable. He makes everything he sings exciting with his enthusiastic demeanor and engaging stage presence.

Sykes' first selections at Friday's concert were two spirituals, "A City Called Heaven" and "Ride On King Jesus." Here he was absolutely stunning. Sykes' rendition of "A City Called Heaven" was incredible, aided in part by the striking arrangement. Except for a brief orchestral passage, Sykes was accompanied solely by the symphony's principal harp, Louise Vickerman. This scoring lent poignancy to the music. "Ride On King Jesus," on the other hand, was upbeat and rousing, and Sykes put some fire and spirit into his performance.

Sykes' versatility was brought home by his tender singing of the hymn "We Will Gather By the River," which he followed with the humorous "I Bought Me a Cat," from Copland's "Old American Songs."

Sykes' final solo number was the Christmas hymn "Mary, Did You Know?"

Sykes, however, was also joined by the Utah Symphony Chorus and the Salt Lake Children's Choir for Ralph Vaughan Williams' "A Song of Thanksgiving." This moving piece was made all the more compelling by Sykes' sensitive narration and by the strong performances of the chorus and children's choir.

The Utah Symphony Chorus was spotlighted in several selections as well. They joined the Utah Symphony for a heartfelt and tender rendition of "Promise of Living" from Aaron Copland's opera "The Tender Land."

The men of the Utah Symphony Chorus distinguished themselves in their admirable rendition of the lovely and evocative "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening," from Virgil Thompson's "Frostiana."

Of the many orchestral pieces on the concert, Lockhart and the Utah Symphony played "A Simple Song," from Leonard Bernstein's "Mass," which featured a fine solo by the orchestra's principal trumpet, Nick Norton, and "Joy!" — a contemporary and swinging take on favorite Christmas songs.


E-mail: ereichel@desnews.com