News Story

Natalie Cole, David McCullough and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Bring in the Christmas Spirit

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square presented their annual Christmas performance, this year entitled The Wondrous Gift of Christmas, before capacity crowds on Thursday night at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City. Three more performances are scheduled for this weekend.

In the concert, the choir was joined by guest artists Natalie Cole and David McCullough, as well as by the Orchestra at Temple Square and the Bells on Temple Square and a combined children’s choir of 140 singers. Mack Wilberg conducted the performances, in addition to arranging or composing much of the music. Gail Deadrick, music director for Ms. Cole, conducted her numbers.

Grammy Award-winning vocalist Natalie Cole, shared both traditional carols and more contemporary holiday favorites. David McCullough, noted author and Pulitzer Prize winner, imparted a historical look at a pair of Christmas songs.

“Christmas is the defining season of the year,” Cole explained, “and for me, after a very emotional year, I’m grateful to close it out with such a feeling of goodness, the goodness of the spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ that is so pervasive throughout the entire performance.  That’s what this season is all about.”

McCullough, speaking from his historical perspective, reminded the audience that “history is not only politics and military events but also includes art, music, literature, drama and architecture. To leave out music and these other elements leaves out the soul of the human story.”

In keeping with the format established in past seasons, the concert began with a processional of 85 dancers entering the stage through the multiple aisles of the 21,000-seat center. The dancers, directed by Carol N. Iwasaki of the University of Utah Department of Ballet, also appeared in international costumes as a part of the celebration of carols from around the world.

The versatile stage was banked with hundreds of poinsettias. Stained-glass windows, faux stone walls and over 7,000 glittered Christmas ornaments filled in the backgrounds. During the celebration of international carols, a 30-foot Christmas tree emerged center stage and served as the focal point for the German carol “Oh, Tannenbaum.”

Eight local children’s choirs joined the presentation and featured a young San Diego, California soloist, Karina Gillette.

Choir president Mac Christensen, in describing the 40th annual Christmas program and the 10th in the current venue, suggested: “There isn’t anything like this performance in the world.  Everyone, including the over-750 performers and technicians, holds it all together to perform for over 80,000 guests.” Christensen estimated that over 25,000 hours of rehearsal time were donated by the all-volunteer cast.

The annual performance requires a full year of planning, according to conductor Mack Wilberg. “You see the performers on stage, but there’s an army of people behind the scenes that, throughout the year, make this come together. The concert is meant to be a gift to the community and then, next year, a gift to the nation when it is shown on PBS Television.”

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