More than 700 musicians from the Mormon Choral Organizations of America poured into Salt Lake City over the Memorial Day weekend for a weeklong recording and now sold-out performances of a new work, “Messiah in America.”
MCOAmerica is an independent nonprofit organization comprised of two sister organizations: the East Valley Mormon Choral Organization based in the East Valley of Arizona, and the Orange County Mormon Choral Organization based in Orange County, Calif. It originated four years ago in Orange County before spreading to Arizona two years ago.
The organization is not affiliated with the LDS Church, but it promotes the improvement of LDS music at local levels. The organization opens its doors to members of all faiths. Many of the participants are not Mormons, but enjoy the feeling of unity and camaraderie. The overarching mission of MCOAmerica is to teach and encourage excellence in quality sacred, choral and classical music for youths and adults alike.
“Communities are starving for this kind of thing, ” said Susan Stephensen, executive director for MCOAmerica.
“Messiah in America” is a 34-part oratorio composed by Brett Stewart, who is a founding musical director for the organization along with his brother, Brandon Stewart. Based on text from the Book of Mormon, it details Christ’s visit to the American continent.
John Huntington, a featured soloist in the piece, considers “Messiah in America” to be a sort of contemporary counterpart to Handel’s “Mesiah.” He said Stewart’s work is “inspired.”
“The unity between text, meter, melody and orchestration shows a deft and mature artistry,” he said. “This is a genuinely important new major work of American art.”
A 400-voice adult choir, 200-voice youth choir and 100-piece symphony orchestra have been in Salt Lake City this week clocking nearly two dozen recording hours at Abravanel Hall.
Stephensen said that the organization picked Salt Lake City because it was one of few areas with venues that could accommodate the groups' size. This is the first time the two groups have performed together and outside of their respective areas.
“Our participants have been ecstatic for our opportunity to come to Salt Lake,” Stephensen said. It’s likely that their excitement increased even more with the response in ticket sales.
"We had originally planned one celebration concert at the Tabernacle to culminate a tedious week of recording," Stephensen said, discussing the performance at the Tabernacle on Temple Square on Friday, June 3, at 7:30 p.m. "But when the entire Tabernacle sold out within 25 minutes at the box office, we found ourselves scrambling to accommodate the thousands of hopeful audience members who were left ticketless.” Abravanel Hall stepped in and offered its facilities for another performance at 2 p.m. on Saturday, and that too has sold out.
The organization plans to release its recording in September. It will be available on iTunes. For more information about MCOAmerica, visit www.mcoamerica.org.