Commemorating events just prior to and just following the Resurrection of Christ, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square presented their Easter Concert Friday with Beethoven’s seminal work “Christ on the Mount of Olives” followed by the world premiere of music director Mack Wilberg’s “A Cloud of Witnesses.”
Performed in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square, the concert is being presented in two performances, the last one being tonight.
Three guest soloists appeared with the choir and orchestra: soprano Celena Shafer, tenor Brian Stucki and bass-baritone Matt Boehler.
First performed during Holy Week in 1803, Beethoven’s oratorio is scored for orchestra, chorus and three soloists representing Christ, an angel and the apostle Peter.
In notes prepared for the printed program distributed at the concert, musicologist Luke Howard wrote: “A dramatic adagio introduction from the orchestra opens the work, setting an ominous nighttime scene of anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane. In an extended recitative, Christ prays and offers Himself as a Savior, but pleads for support from heaven as He contemplates the incalculable agony. The agitated aria that follows focuses on Christ’s physical pain and distress and His heartbreaking plea for the cup of suffering to be removed.”
The “Hallelujah!” chorus that comprises the finale to the piece is familiar to many listeners, with these words:
Hallelujah unto God’s Almighty Son.
Praise the Lord, ye bright angelic choirs,
In holy songs of joy.
Man, proclaim His grace and glory!
Praise the Lord in holy songs of joy!
Brother Wilberg’s new composition, “A Cloud of Witnesses” was composed over the past year in collaboration with David Warner, who wrote the text. It is drawn from the accounts in the four New Testament gospels of those to whom the risen Christ appeared after His body lay in the tomb for three days and who thus became witnesses of His resurrection.
Brother Howard wrote in the program notes that the work “includes both narration and dialogue attributed to specific individuals — Peter, Thomas, Mary Magdalene and others. But rather than give their words to soloists, as in a standard oratorio or passion setting, Wilberg has the choir sing all parts of the text.”
In an interesting contrast, the work begins with the three women at the tomb questioning, “Never, never, shall we see Him?” and concludes with the assurance of the risen Christ to His disciples, “Lo, I am with you Alway,” with the word alway voiced repeatedly by the choir.
Both pieces were received enthusiastically by the audience, which gave prolonged and vocal applause to each one.
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