Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Not your daddy's MoTab

I mentioned in my LDS Week post that one of my LDS Week stories was saved for later. It was published in Sunday's paper, but it's still not online yet. So I'll copy and paste the text below.

Hope you enjoy it!

From the Mormon Tabernacle Choir website

J.J. Despain
Daily Herald
The Orchestra at Temple Square has 180 instruments, including 100 strings. But whatever you do, don’t call it “second fiddle.”
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir may have a head start of 152 years, but the Orchestra at Temple Square is emerging from the choir’s organ-shaped shadow, said violinist Emily Rice.
“The orchestra’s grown in standing on its own over the years, and more and more people are aware of what we’re doing,” Rice said.
Since 1999, the orchestra has been on hand for the choir’s concerts, tours and recordings, including 25 albums since 2003 and weekly installments of “Music and the Spoken Word.”
But the group also ventures on its own twice a year, performing a long list of works by the likes of Beethoven, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Vaughan Williams, Verdi, Barber and Borodin in its semiannual concerts.
“The orchestra plays tough pieces,” orchestra manager Barry Anderson said. “We perform the concerts to really raise the bar on our playing.”
The orchestra just played its spring concert in mid-March, with guest pianist Josh Wright. It will next join the Temple Square Chorale for an Easter concert on Friday and Saturday. Regular tickets have all been handed out, but hopeful patrons are encouraged to try for standby tickets the night of the performance.
Though the orchestra has its own identity, its main purpose is still to be “an accessory to the choir,” Rice said.
In 1999, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir had enjoyed decades of success as musical ambassadors for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But President Gordon B. Hinckley was still looking for more.
“President Hinckley was constantly reminding the choir leadership that he wanted them to continually raise the level of performance of the choir,” Anderson said. “With the choir having been in existence since 1847, the leaders wondered just how they could raise the level and take the choir to new heights.”
Those new heights included the Temple Square Chorale, a rotating selection of choir members who receive in-depth choral training, and the Orchestra at Temple Square.
“The thought of having a full orchestra was enticing, because it would allow the choir to perform a wider range of repertoire,” Anderson said.
The choir was often accompanied by prestigious music groups on its various tours, like the Utah Symphony or the Philadelphia Orchestra. But now, the choir has its own standing army of oboes, cellos and bassoons.
“These new facets of the choir organization have added a better quality of singing by the choir, and the ability to perform masterworks, Broadway tunes and other classical music,” Anderson said.
According to Rice, President Hinckley’s dream has been realized.
“Everybody tells us how much the orchestra enhances the choir and has brought it to a new level,” Rice said.
The orchestra has 180 members, twice the size of a normal orchestra, though for weekly performances with the choir only about half are present. They go through a tough audition process and practice year-round, like the choir. And, just like the choir, they are all solely volunteers.
“They describe it as being about as heavy of a commitment as a big ward calling,” Rice said. “It does take a lot of time, but it’s not overwhelming or anything like that. It’s my escape.”
Anderson said the orchestra members see their work as more joy than obligation.
“They have a keen sense of mission, and come and perform to inspire and share their love of music and their love of God with a wide audience,” Anderson said.
The spiritual mission of the orchestra attracts professionals and amateurs, teachers and students. Even with the wide variety of musical accomplishments, once the conductor raises his baton, all players are equal.
For instance, the original orchestra included both Grammy Award-winning violinist Igor Gruppman and Janene Holmberg, who plays the viola but is a physical therapist by trade.
“I had been preparing for probably a 10-year period of time, working on advancing my skills even though I was pursuing my therapy,” Holmberg said in a YouTube video. “The orchestra was like a godsend, and my chance to express my faith, my passion, and at the same time enjoy myself.”
Before joining the orchestra six years ago, Rice lived in Phoenix and played some occasional freelance gigs or gave violin lessons. But her life changed one December when she found the orchestra on TV, during the First Presidency Christmas Devotional.
“I kind of flipped out,” Rice said. “I just had no idea that was even available.”
Now, Rice, her husband and their six children live in Bountiful, at least partly because of her being enticed by the orchestra.
After an audition and a callback, Rice now leads a double life of “soccer mom” and concert violinist.
“It’s exciting, because I have the hat on of being the mom, driving the kids around, and then I turn around and I’m on stage with lights,” Rice said. “And there’s people that you would never expect to be able to interact with.”
One of those people is Gruppman, the violinist who used to sit in the seats with Holmberg. The world-renowned Gruppman was named conductor of the orchestra in 2003.
Gruppman fits the job in between frequent trips to Europe, where he also conducts the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra in The Netherlands and the Mariinsky Stradivari Orchestra in St. Petersburg, Russia. He has recently been a guest conductor in London and Tokyo.
“What’s great about when he comes is that it’s like having a fantastic violin lesson with him,” Rice said. “It’s a really cool experience to work with somebody that’s that caliber of musician.”
Gruppman and the musicians under his direction have been acclaimed all over the world, but the Orchestra at Temple Square is more interested in making audiences happy than in pleasing critics.
“Just as with the choir, our goal is to inspire people and give them hope in difficult times,” Anderson said.
And when the orchestra combines with the choir, it gives the Mormon Tabernacle Choir an extra “oomph.”
“People love the concerts,” Anderson said. “And I think they come away thinking, ‘This isn’t my dad’s Mormon Tabernacle Choir.’ ”

Easter Concert
Orchestra at Temple Square and Temple Square Chorale
When: April 6 and 7, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Salt Lake Tabernacle, on Temple Square in Salt Lake City
Tickets: Free, but have all been distributed. Standby tickets are available outside the Tabernacle on the night of the performance.
Info: (801) 570-0080,

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