Photo Essay

Christmas and the Musical Works of George Frideric Handel

The combination of a Broadway singer and actress, one of Britain’s best-loved actors, four members of the Metropolitan Opera, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra at Temple Square and Bells on Temple Square made for an “extraordinary moment.” British actor Martin Jarvis used those words to describe his experience after performing in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, December 17, 2015, in the annual Christmas concert.

During a news conference Friday, December 18, with the major performers along with choir director Dr. Mack Wilberg and choir president Ron Jarrett, Jarvis said he had heard the choir on recordings when he lived in London and seen them more recently on television. 

But he “had the thought that I would never have the chance to perform with them.” He called his experience in the performance “an uplifting celebration.”

In addition to the traditional Christmas carols that were sung, during the 90-minute performance by Jarvis, the narrator; Laura Osnes, the Broadway singer and actress; and the four Met performers, the compelling story was told of George Frideric Handel and his experience while writing his most famous composition, the Messiah

Laura Osnes, when asked if singing with the choir in the Christmas concert was worth all the efforts to rearrange her schedule, said it was. “This is not a sacrifice.”

Costuming for the concert was period clothing from the days of Handel, in the 1600 and 1700s. Former choir member Jerry Graves performed the part of Handel. 

A processional of actors and dancers moved down the Conference Center aisles onto the stage as the choir, orchestra and the Bells on Temple Square performed.

The story of Handel’s many challenges in writing his famous oratorio was told through dance, acting and singing pieces of his music. 

Soprano Erin Morley, a Utah native, said, “The spiritual element of the performance was undeniable.” 

She said she was particularly moved by the unity and connection she felt when the audience stood during the singing of the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

Martin Jarvis also told the story of the birth of Jesus from the book of Luke in the New Testament:

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Morley, a Latter-day Saint, said she has been around the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square for many years. Her mother currently plays the violin in the orchestra and her father sings in the choir.

Tabernacle organist Richard Elliott wowed the audience once again as his hands glided over the five keyboards while his feet played the organ’s pedals. After performing “Let Earth Receive Her King (Joy to the World)” the audience was quick to jump to their feet with a standing ovation.

Osnes said she is happy that a lot of people will be able to enjoy the program and its message. “It can speak to everyone — speak to the spiritual part that is within all of us.”

Metropolitan Opera tenor Ben Bliss said while his life is busy and much of it is spent on the road performing around the world, he is enjoying his time with the choir and the opportunity to be part of millions of families’ Christmases through the concert. 

Dr. Wilberg said when he first brings performers into the Conference Center they are usually overwhelmed by its size. But by the time they have performed in the 21,000-seat hall he said their sentiment has changed, and they feel they have had an intimate experience with the audience.

The annual Christmas concert continues Friday and Saturday nights, December 18 and 19, at 8:00 p.m. Then, Sunday morning at 9:30, the Music and the Spoken Word broadcast will also include some of the concert’s selections during their 30-minute program.

The performance will later be rebroadcast on public television and will also be recorded on CD and DVD.

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.