REVIEW – Utah Chamber Artists travel from trials to triumph

By Catherine Reese Newton
The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Sep 19 2011 11:06PM
Updated Sep 20, 2011 08:54AM

Utah Chamber Artists’ annual Autumn Collage concerts are a favorite of Salt Lake City choral-music buffs, who fill the Cathedral of the Madeleine to see what kind of multimedia sleight of hand artistic director Barlow Bradford has devised. This year’s edition stands out even by Bradford’s high standards. Rather than the usual collage of vocal and instrumental works, the program has a strong thematic thread taking listeners from innocence to trials and eventually to triumph.

Chant from the Gregorian Liber Usualis connects the pieces on the program, most of which are written by living composers and based on the ancient chants. Sometimes the chants are sung by the 40-voice UCA choir, sometimes by mezzo-soprano Aubrey Adams-McMillan and baritone Michael Chipman. Instrumental selections by cellist John Eckstein, organist Douglas O’Neill and others add tasteful variety.

In keeping with tradition, the performers make full use of the cathedral’s acoustic and architectural features. Part of the appeal of these concerts is never knowing from where the music will come next ­— around the altar, up in the organ loft, off in one of the side chapels or behind the chancel screen. This year, creative use of light reinforces the thematic arc even further.

Longtime UCA lighting designer Chip Dance illuminates the building’s stained-glass windows from outside, moving gradually from west to east as the story unfolds. The jewel tones from the glass, cast onto the cathedral’s ceiling, create a subtle kaleidoscope effect.

The centerpiece of Monday’s program was the premiere of J.A.C. Redford’s “Rest Now, My Sister,” written in memory of the composer’s murdered sister-in-law. The beautifully orchestrated piece carries an almost palpable sense of tenderness, and the UCA singers and chamber orchestra gave it a poignant reading. The capacity crowd sat in hushed reverence for several seconds at the work’s conclusion.

Other highlights included two new short pieces for string quartet by Stephen Voorhees, co-commissioned by UCA and the Salty Cricket Composers Collective, and a carefree piano-quartet movement by Redford.

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