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Singing praises of America's foremost choral composer

Published January 15, 2013 2:12 pm

Music • Multimedia concert to celebrate American composer Morten Lauridsen.
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Who is Morten Lauridsen? If you're not a choral music buff, this may be a hard question to answer. Although Lauridsen is the most frequently performed American choral composer today, his name has generally managed to slip under the public radar.

Until now, anyway. The Salt Lake Choral Artists will be performing a multimedia concert of Lauridsen's music this weekend, augmented by footage from "Shining Night: A Portrait of Composer Morten Lauridsen," a recently released Michael Stillwater documentary.

Brady Allred, the group's conductor and executive director, said he's long been in love with Lauridsen's music, performing it around the world as his group has toured or when he's been engaged as a guest conductor.

Normally, Allred tries not to program the music of only one composer for a concert. "Many times, composers' music starts to all sound the same," he said. "I have to really be careful about what I program or it can get to be boring that way."

The original idea, Allred said, was to present the concert in conjunction with a screening of the entire film "Shining Night." In the end, selections from the film will be presented, with video clips of Allred's group singing Lauridsen's music on tour.

"What I liked about the documentary, especially, is that it gave background about what led Lauridsen to inspiration for each of these pieces; what he was experiencing in his life and what attracted him about the poetry," Allred said. "We really get an insight into his creative spirit, and I think that will be really nice to set the mood, and the atmosphere, and the context for the listeners."

He hopes the concert might attract movie fans who appreciate film scores. "[Maybe] we can pull them in and help them keep them interested through visual presentation," he said.

For Stillwater, a Switzerland-based filmmaker, it's the combination of film and live musical performance that sets this concert apart.

It was in the process of making the documentary, which premiered in 2012, that Stillwater discovered the roots of Lauridsen's inspiration: solitude, being in nature, silence. "It is out of that deep, peaceful beauty of nature where he lives part of his life, that this gorgeous music is heard inside of his being and then comes out," the filmmaker said.

"I believe that anyone who has some relationship to nature, and the beauty of nature, the silence of nature — who has some relationship to music more in the classical style — will discover a new musical friend, companion and treasure in meeting Lauridsen's music. It's a wonderful discovery to make for somebody who doesn't know anything about him."

One of the things setting Lauridsen apart from many modern classical composers, Stillwater said, is his love for melody and the beauty of the melodic line. "He is both attracted to and dedicated to the power in beauty itself."

For those who haven't heard Lauridsen's music, Stillwater said it shares a similarity with earlier styles of music, such as from the Renaissance. "If they find something beautiful in that, then they will find something very appealing in his music because it takes that form and enriches it for modern ears."

This concert also marks the debut of the Salt Lake Choral Artists Youth Choir, a newly formed choir for 15- to 21-year-olds.

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'Shining Night: A celebration of Morten Lauridsen'

Salt Lake Choral Artists celebrate the work of the American choral composer.

When • Friday and Saturday, Jan. 18-19, 7:30 p.m.

Where • Waterford Concert Hall, 9600 S. 1700 East, Sandy

Tickets • $15; students $10; at saltlakechoralartists.org or at the door

Next • "Praise God and Dance: Duke Ellington's 'Sacred Concert' "

When • March 2, 2 and 7:30 p.m.

Where • Libby Gardner Concert Hall, 1375 E. Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $20; students $10; at saltlakechoralartists.org or at the door