BYU–Idaho Choirs and Orchestra Perform “The Redeemer” Oratorio

Contributed By Noelle Baldwin, Church News contributor

  • 31 March 2016

Performers from Brigham Young University–Idaho present Robert Cundick's The Redeemer in the Tabernacle on Temple Square.  Photo by Ryan Chase, BYU–Idaho.

Last year, Robert Cundick was excited when he heard that the BYU–Idaho choirs and orchestra would perform his oratorio The Redeemer as part of their biennial Sacred Music Series. Unfortunately, Brother Cundick passed away on January 7, 2016, at the age of 89. (See related story.)

When The Redeemer was selected “[we] had no idea that Brother Cundick would pass away before it was performed. In fact, we had spoken to Brother Cundick, and [he] was very, very excited to hear we were going to perform the work and he looking forward to attending the performance,” said Don Sparhawk, coordinator of the Center Stage Performing Arts Series at BYU–Idaho.

Kristin Jensen, a soloist, performs in Robert Cundick's The Redeemer. Photo by Ryan Chase, BYU–Idaho.

Sister Charlotte Cundick, widow of Robert Cundick, attends BYU–Idaho's performance of what is called his greatest musical work, The Redeemer. Photo by Ryan Chase, BYU–Idaho.

Sam Chiba and Rebecca Busselberg perform a song from Robert Cundick's The Redeemer. Photo by Ryan Chase, BYU–Idaho.

Singers of Brigham Young University–Idaho's choir perform Robert Cundick's The Redeemer in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. Photo by Ryan Chase, BYU–Idaho.

Paul Busselberg, a soloist, performs in Robert Cundick's The Redeemer. Photo by Ryan Chase, BYU–Idaho.

On Friday, March 18, in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, more than 400 performers from BYU–Idaho’s Collegiate Singers, Concert Choir, Men’s Choir, and Women’s Choir were joined by the school’s symphony orchestra and five soloists to perform Brother Cundick’s greatest work, The Redeemer. The concert, which was dedicated to Brother Cundick, was conducted by Eda Ashby, the director of BYU–Idaho’s Concert Choir.

“It was very fitting for us to perform this work in the Salt Lake Tabernacle,” said Brother Sparhawk. “As a Tabernacle organist, the Salt Lake Tabernacle was his home for many years.” Brother Cundick served as an organist for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for 27 years and organized the restoration and upgrade of the Tabernacle organ.

Charlotte Cundick, Brother Cundick’s wife, attended the Friday concert along with other family members. “As a family our feelings are tender because this is the first time [we experienced] The Redeemer without Dad being with us,” said Robb Cundick, Brother Cundick’s son.

The Redeemer was first performed in 1978 and is considered by many, and by the composer himself, to be his best work. “Dad considered [it] to be his greatest musical contribution to the world,” said Robb Cundick. However, according to his son, Brother Cundick felt that he was more of a scribe for the inspiration, rather than the composer.

Dr. Ralph Woodward, a former director of the Brigham Young University A Cappella and Oratorio choirs, devised the idea for The Redeemer and recommended Brother Cundick as the composer. Scriptures pulled from each of the standard works serve as the base for the three sections: “The Prophecy,” “The Sacrifice,” and “The Promise.” The three parts follow the Savior’s life and Atonement. 

The five soloists—David Olsen, Paul Busselberg, Sam Chiba, Kristen Jensen, and Rebecca Busselberg—portrayed different people who had a role in prophesying the Savior’s life or who had direct contact with Him during His mortal life. Prophets and angels were portrayed, as well as Christ’s mother, Mary; Heavenly Father; and the Savior Himself.

Part one came from the prophecies of the Savior’s birth that are found in the Book of Mormon and the New Testament. In the movement titled “My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord,” Sister Jensen, a soprano soloist, sang from Mary’s point of view. The lyrics were pulled from Luke 1:46–55 and depict Mary’s contemplations after she learned that she would give birth to the Savior.

Part two was based on scriptures that tell of His life and Atonement from the Old Testament, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Book of Mormon. The signs of His death given to the peoples in the Americas, as recorded in Helaman 14:20–25, were shared in this section. The lyrics of “And the Multitude Heard a Voice” spoke of the cataclysmic events that happened as a result of His death, which were also reflected in the dissonant chords in the choir and orchestration. During this movement, the voice of Heavenly Father introduces the resurrected Christ to the Nephites (see 3 Nephi 11). Baritone soloist Brother Busselberg, who performed the part of God the Father, sang from a microphone off-stage to represent Heavenly Father’s voice coming from the heavens.

Part three related the promises and blessings that are a result of the Atonement and the Resurrection, with references to the Book of Mormon as well as modern-day revelation. The first movement of the section “And What Is It We Shall Hope For?” reminds one that hope comes through the Atonement of Christ and cites Moroni 7:41. Unlike the clashing chords in part two, the choir sang with beautiful harmonies that reflected the peace and joy that come as a result of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and Resurrection.

Brother Sparhawk called Brother Cundick a great friend to BYU–Idaho “and we are grateful for the sacred music that he has left to the world.” The Redeemer is a “magnificent work, which is a tribute to our Lord and Savior,” said Brother Sparhawk, to which Sister Ashby added that it is “spiritually powerful [with a] life-changing testimony of Christ.” Friday’s concert was the 13th performance in the Sacred Music Series. It was streamed to distant audiences and recorded for later publication on DVD and CD. A second performance, which an estimated 5,000 people attended, was held the following day, March 19, in the BYU–Idaho Center in Rexburg, Idaho.

Eda Ashby conducts Robert Cundick's The Redeemer. Photo by Ryan Chase, BYU–Idaho.

Musicians from Brigham Young University–Idaho perform Robert Cundick's The Redeemer in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. Photo by Ryan Chase, BYU–Idaho.

Brigham Young University–Idaho's orchestra performs Robert Cundick's The Redeemer in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. Photo by Ryan Chase, BYU–Idaho.

Musicians from Brigham Young University–Idaho perform Robert Cundick's The Redeemer in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. Photo by Ryan Chase, BYU–Idaho.

Former president of Ricks College and member of the Seventy, Elder Joe J. Christensen converses with other audience members preceding the Sacred Music Series concert. Photo by Ryan Chase, BYU–Idaho.

Musicians from Brigham Young University–Idaho perform Robert Cundick's The Redeemer in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. Photo by Ryan Chase, BYU–Idaho.