The local classical music scene was irrevocably altered Friday. That was the day the Jay Welch Chorale gave its final concert under the direction of its founder, Jay Welch. The concert, ironically, also marked the 20th anniversary of the chorale's founding.
This was indeed a very special day for Welch, who has been a part of the local scene for more than 40 years. After the invocation and before the concert began, Brett Graham, special representative of Gov. Mike Leavitt, read a proclamation declaring July 24 to be Jay Welch Chorale Day in Utah. This was truly a notable honor for Welch, who has done as much as anyone to promote music here in our state.(As a footnote, lest anyone wonder, the Jay Welch Chorale will still continue to perform, but under a new name and with a new director.)
Friday evening's concert consisted mainly of spiritual songs, in honor of Pioneer Day, but also a couple of patriotic pieces, all arranged by Welch. And there was an excerpt from Welch's own monumental work for chorus and orchestra, "The Marshes of Glynn."
After a rousing a cappella rendition of "America the Beautiful" that opened the concert, the chorus and orchestra performed the "Hymn of the Marshes" movement from Welch's composition. This melodious and somewhat sentimental movement has a lush, romantic sound, and both the music and orchestration is very reminiscent of Mahler.
Before proceeding further, Welch had a few comments for the audience, noting that if this concert had a subtitle it would be "Songs of God and Nature." And indeed the rest of the evening glorified both.
What followed was a series of LDS hymns for full chorus and orchestra, except for the lovely "A Key Was Turned in Latter Days" that was arranged for women's voices with piano accompaniment.
The choir sounded magnificent in these pieces, as it did throughout the entire concert. The voices in the choir blend well together, with each section sounding as if it were one voice. At the risk of being blasphemous, one can say that the Jay Welch Chorale sounds like a mini-Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It's sheer vocal ecstasy to listen to the chorale sing.
The vocal quality of the chorale is not surprising when one remembers that Welch was assistant director of the Tabernacle Choir for nearly two decades.
The other hymns that Welch chose to perform were "Sweet is the Word," "Does the Journey Seem Long?", "O My Father," "I Stand All Amazed" and "I Need Thee Every Hour." As arranged by Welch and performed by the chorale, these songs had a tranquil, peaceful air about them that was soothing and relaxing.
The concert ended with Howard Hanson's "Song of Democracy," set to the words of Walt Whitman. This lively, rhythmically vibrant piece of music was played a little on the slow side, losing some of its vitality in this performance, but it was nevertheless a stirring ending to a memorable evening.