David Archuleta, Michael York headline annual Christmas concert
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David Archuleta, Utah's homegrown pop music superstar, and veteran stage and film actor Michael York headlined the annual Christmas concert of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra at Temple Square and Bells on Temple Square Dec. 16-18, which this year had a unique pioneer flavor.
"It's the first time we've had one of our own as a featured guest artist" in the Christmas concert, said choir musical director Mack Wilberg at a Dec. 17 news conference. He was referring to the fact that Brother Archuleta, 20, is an active Church member whose home was Murray, Utah, in 2006, when he was runner-up in the seventh season of the nationwide TV show "American Idol."
For Brother Archuleta, the Yuletide appearance on the Conference Center stage with the choir and orchestra was surreal. At the Dec. 17 performance, he recalled seeing the concert in 2006 when Norwegian singer Sissel was the guest artist. "It was one of the greatest performances I've ever seen, so I just can't believe now it's me here!" he said.
At the news conference earlier in the day, he expressed his lifelong admiration for the choir, saying he had grown up having such high admiration and respect for the choir members, he could scarcely take in the fact he was actually performing with them.
"I think they're my most listened-to thing on iTunes," he quipped.
Brother Archuleta's sparkling, bell-like tenor was showcased first with the choir and orchestra on a Sam Cardon arrangement of "Joy to the World" and immediately thereafter on Brother Wilberg's arrangement of Ted Hutchinson's whimsical "Cat and Mouse Carol."
He paid homage to his Latin heritage with the traditional Spanish Carol "Los pastores a belen" followed by a sublime rendition of "Silent Night."
An opening processional of dancers dressed in colorful pioneer costumes — and a stage set with a stone church, country cottage and log cabins that in the course of the performance transformed into gingerbread houses ?— foreshadowed what was coming. It was Mr. York's moving narration of the story of John Parry, a 19th century convert to the Church from Wales who organized a chorus among the Welsh emigrants who with him crossed the ocean and the plains to the Salt Lake Valley. In Salt Lake City, that chorus formed the nucleus of the what became the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
"It is a great story," Mr. York said at the news conference. "I'm half Welsh myself, so I feel keenly that [countrymen of] my ancestors should have the courage to cross the ocean, to bring the word, the message, the discipline and so on into what must have been an extraordinary place, terrifying place to be, semi-desert and not yet settled. That touches me enormously."
Such values and determination as John Parry exemplified find expression today in the attitude of Brother Archuleta. At the news conference, he said he feels a sense of responsibility to youth who might look to him as an example.
"It's cool to be able to reach out to kids at this time in their lives and encourage them and say, 'Hey, you'll make it, you'll do all right; don't give up.' "
He said he is strengthened in maintaining his own values by the role models who have surrounded him in his life.
The climax of the concert was a masterful reading of the Christmas story from Luke 2 by Mr. York, whose screen credits include the role of John the Baptist in the 1977 TV mini-series "Jesus of Nazareth."
At the news conference, he said the concert brings him a sense of continuity. He recently spent 550 hours doing an audio recording of the Bible, and he has done a stage performance of the reading of Luke and released an audio album of Christian prayers.
"It just seemed, in a sense, only natural to be here with one of the great Christmas celebrations that the world puts on," he said, "and I feel enormously honored and privileged to be in that position."
Portions of the concert were repeated Dec. 19 at the choir's Sunday morning nationwide radio and television program "Music and the Spoken Word." As in years past, the concert was recorded for broadcast next year over the PBS television stations. Typically, each year's concert is released the following year on DVD and CD on the choir's own recording label.