SALT LAKE CITY — As an internationally recognized conductor, with over 16,000 YouTube subscribers across three channels for the groups he conducts, Brady Allred is a bit like a choral rock star. His choral groups have won multiple international competitions and are widely considered to be some of the most innovative choral groups in the country. But in their hometown of Salt Lake City, they are essentially unknown.
“They’re kind of a nicely kept secret here in Salt Lake, in the shadow of another large choral organization,” said Anthony Buck, a musical arts doctorate student at the University of Utah who is collaborating with Allred on an upcoming concert at Libby Gardner Concert Hall.
Speaking of the local and worldwide popularity of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Buck said, “It’s kind of hard to compete with them. But for innovation, hands down the Salt Lake Choral Artists is the winner.”
The Salt Lake Choral Artists, directed by Allred, are a large choral group based in downtown Salt Lake City that houses several smaller choral groups which Allred also conducts. Among those smaller groups are the Salt Lake Vocal Artists, an elite group of singers who have traveled all over the world and have fans from Europe and Asia to South America and South Africa. But although the group has been around for 14 years, it has remained largely unknown here in Utah, which is something Allred is hoping to change, especially as they approach their 15-year anniversary next year.
“When we started, we were just a little 60-voice mixed choir,” Allred told the Deseret News in a recent interview.
Since Allred took over as conductor, the SLCA have grown to form five different longstanding groups and regularly form other small choirs for particular performances. The longstanding groups include the 170-voice concert choir, the 60-voice chamber choir, a women’s choir, a youth group called the Young Choral Artists and the 40-voice internationally recognized Salt Lake Vocal Artists.
“I love working with community singers … with what we would call amateurs,” Allred said. “The word amateur comes from ‘amo’ — to love — and I really enjoy working with amateur singers because they really love what they do. They’re really committed.”
All choir participants pay a monthly membership fee, and as an educational institution, SLCA have a collective goal for every member to be constantly improving.
Choir members also put together the SLCA YouTube channel, taping and recording the group's concerts and rehearsals and putting them online. Allred said it wasn't long before he started getting recognized and receiving requests for his choirs from the worldwide choral community.
But despite SLCA's growth and international recognition, Allred admitted that people in their own community don't know much about the group. And although Allred is a fan of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, he acknowledged that the SLCA do seem to live in the larger choir's shadow within the Utah community. But that hasn't stopped the SLCA from trying to make its mark on the community here and in the wider world.
“We can do all kinds of repertoire that the Tabernacle Choir will never do. … And we have different types of groups that can manage the different types of repertoire,” Allred said. “You don’t want to hear 360 singers singing what 24 singers would sound better doing.”
SLCA’s dynamic range is best illustrated by its performances thus far this year. Having just completed a Bluegrass concert, the group is jumping to the other end of the repertory spectrum for their March 30 concert at Libby Gardner Hall.
Performing J.S. Bach’s oratorio “St. Matthew Passion” which, according to Allred, is “one of the greatest, if not the greatest choral masterpieces,” Allred hopes to stay true to the nature of the piece while also staying true to the choir's innovative nature.
“I’ve always wanted to add this additional element of staging it to enhance the drama of the piece,” Allred said.
Buck is helping Allred with the staging, which will bring the oratorio's various characters to life through its arias.
“'Passion' is another word for suffering,” Allred said, explaining that Bach’s work tells the story of the final week of Christ’s life and movingly expresses both his and his followers suffering.
While the oratorio obviously tells a religious story — one especially fitting for this time of year — Buck said that the religious element isn't their only focus. For Buck, the oratorio also communicates a “human drama” that everyone can relate to.
And for Allred, making those connections through music and most importantly, keeping people singing, are goals that have become personal.Comment on this story
"I’ve come to the conclusion that my mission is for lifelong singing and lifelong education in singing, and that’s why this vision of having people singing from childhood until they can’t sing anymore really is a passion for me," he said. "I want this organization to be seen that way. I don’t know of any other organization in the area that can do that."
If you go …
What: Salt Lake Choral Artists perform J.S. Bach's “The Passion According to St. Matthew”
When: Friday, March 30, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Libby Gardner Concert Hall, 1375 Presidents Circle
How much: $10-$15
Correction: An earlier version of this article in one instance stated the March 30 concert will take place at Kingsbury Hall. It will take place in Libby Gardner Concert Hall.