BYU–Idaho Ensemble Performs Oratorio in Tabernacle
Contributed By Jace Whatcott, Church News staff writer
A performance on June 28 in the Tabernacle on Temple Square was on the itinerary for a group of musicians from BYU–Idaho who took their talents and a new major musical work on the road.
The musical group made up of BYU–Idaho’s Men’s Choir, Women’s Choir, Symphony Orchestra, and Collegiate Singers performed How Beautiful upon the Mountains, an oratorio written by LDS composer Daniel E. Gawthrop for the school’s Sacred Music Series, which began in 1993 as a program of biennial commissions to LDS composers to create new religious oratorios with texts drawn from scripture. How Beautiful upon the Mountains is Brother Gawthrop’s second oratorio written specifically for BYU–Idaho, his first being The Passion and the Promise of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Brother Gawthrop wrote original music for the oratorio, and he, with the help of his wife, Jane Griner, drew inspiration for the lyrics from chapters 12 through 16 of the book of Mosiah.
“We decided that Abinadi’s story would have been a wonderful tale to tell, but there wasn’t enough in script to tell the tale,” he said. “We made shorter the elements of what he was preaching. What you have in this piece is almost a doctrinal exposition, but it’s put together to draw the listener from one movement to the next.”
Finding and assembling the text for the oratorio took the better part of a year. After almost two years of work, How Beautiful upon the Mountains was created, being made up of 18 movements and consisting of tenor and soprano soloists, an orchestra, and a choir.
Just a week before the performance, the four groups combined forces and practiced together for the first time. Because of scheduling conflicts and other challenges, a week was all the time they had to practice together. In addition to using the time to practice together, the choirs and orchestra made adjustments here and there under Brother Gawthrop’s direction.
“Because it is a brand new piece, there have been a few adjustments,” said Dallin Hansen, conductor and faculty member at BYU–Idaho. Brother Gawthrop felt like there needed to be more dramatic elements to the piece, so he added more cymbals, more deep brass, and more bass strings.
Performing at such a unique venue as the Tabernacle is something that Brother Hansen said the ensemble as a whole looked forward to.
“There are moments [in the oratorio] that are really pure and lyrical, and I think they’ll really play out,” said Brother Hansen before the concert. “I think [the oratorio] is going to be the best suited for [the Tabernacle].”
Brother Hansen said he relies on the Spirit to touch the hearts of those who attend. Because the lyrics of the oratorio are taken from Abinadi’s quoting of the book of Isaiah, “several layers of symbolism” are found within the words. “I hope that the audience will recognize that through the development of the piece, the phrase ‘how beautiful upon the mountains’ will receive different meanings,” he said.
Some of those meanings, Brother Hansen said, are that of the miracle of the Atonement and the Resurrection. The historic and emotional impact of that building cannot be denied, he added.
While some oratorios, such as Handel’s Messiah, try to be narrative in nature, “this particular piece is not an attempt to tell a story,” said Brother Gawthrop. “This is designed to put the basic principles of the gospel and sing them into people’s hearts through the gift of music.”
The concert tour began in Twin Falls, Idaho, on June 25. The final performance will be on July 12 at 7:30 p.m. in the BYU–Idaho Center in Rexburg, Idaho. Tickets are free and can be obtained online at http://www.byui.edu/tickets or from the BYU–Idaho ticket office by calling 208-496-3170.