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TABERNACLE CHOIR TO EMBARK ON FIRST TOUR OF ISRAEL

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At Christmas, thoughts naturally turn to the Holy Land. This year, members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir are doing more than merely thinking of it as they prepare to depart Saturday for a 12-day concert tour in Israel. It is the choir's first tour to Israel.

The choir, represented by 303 of its current 314 singers, will perform three concerts in Jerusalem, two in Tel Aviv and one in Haifa. Two of the concerts - one in Jerusalem and one in Tel Aviv - will feature the choir with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Hector Berlioz' "Requiem."The concerts in Jerusalem are part of the orchestra's liturgica series, an annual event that highlights largely Christian music around Christmastime. Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek invited the choir last February to perform in Israel.

Newspapers in Israel report that tickets are selling well. Arvi Hanani, head of music for Israel Broadcasting Authority, said, "There is a lot of excitement about the choir's visit. All the newspapers have reported on the choir's tour, and it's being described as one of the world's best-known choirs. Tickets are selling well. Radio stations have been playing selections from the choir's albums."

Hanani has helped arrange for two concerts in Jerusalem to be carried by Israel Broadcasting Authority. Also, arrangements have been made for an Israeli television station to tape the choir's weekly CBS program, "Music and the Spoken Word." The program, which will be taped Dec. 31, will air at its regularly scheduled time on Sunday, Jan. 3.

Some 600 people will be traveling in the choir's entourage. The group will return to Salt Lake City Jan. 6.