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VASTLY TALENTED BESTOR IS BETTER EVERY YEAR

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"Hot wax" is a music-industry term hailing back to the olden days of vinyl recordings, generally referring to how "hot" a record is on the sales charts.

But it took on a new meaning Saturday night during the first of three Kurt Bestor concerts at Abravanel Hall. Set designer Robert Vaughan had used gothic-style candelabras to give the hall a festive Arthurian air. But some of the lighted candles hanging above the stage began dripping - you guessed it - hot wax onto bass guitarist Craig Poole's pants.An unnamed candle-snuffer received a nice round of applause during intermission when the last of the candles was extinguished.

But wax wasn't the only thing cooking Saturday night.

So was musical Renaissance man Kurt Bestor himself, playing the Falcone piano, conducting the 54-piece orchestra, singing (with the aid of a synthesizer) and putting the sold-out crowd into the Christmas spirit with his own brand of mellow, New Age-style carols.

The program was pure Bestor: a mix of familiar (but not traditionally played) Christmas tunes and several of the talented Utahn's own compositions.

Bestor's popularity, as a composer and performer, is as deserved as it is remarkable. Last year he presented two concerts back to back at Abravanel Hall. This year, he added a third. And next year? Probably four.

He proved on Saturday night that while the creative right side of his brain is really in great shape, the "logical" left half needs some work. He had retooled an old holiday chestnut, "The Twelve Days of Christmas," into a piece focusing on the different elements of his superb backup musicians, including the angelic Salt Lake Children's Choir and the Baroque-ish Utah Pro Musica.

But midway through he skipped from "six woodwinds" to "eight low strings" . . . sheepishly realizing he had left out the "seven trumpets trumping."

"My wife told me this would happen," he said, backing up to Day No. 7 and continuing on.

As with previous Bestor outings, every piece could be considered a highlight. From the Appalachian sounds of a rare American carol, "I Wonder as I Wander" (with Bestor on harmonica) to the sing-along finale, there was much to enjoy. One delightful surprise: The premiere of his newly composed carol, "He Who Crafted the Earth," based on a 14th-century text by Irene Gass.

The centerpiece of the concert was a medley of selections from his newest collaboration (with fantasy visual artist James C. Christensen), "Evening Angels," a 45-minute suite relating the journey of four angels across the sky in an elaborate boat. Their celestial task is to bring peace to the world at eventide. From the primal rhythms of "Africana" to the Gaelic folk-sounds of "Celtic Lands," the humble spirit of America's "Appalachiana," the dark torment of "Troubled Lands" and the awesome majesty of "Mountains," it was an unforgettable and joyously uplifting musical trip.

Bestor's wife Melody accompanied several tunes. He asserts that she's a better pianist than he is, and I'll bet she can count beyond 10 without taking off her shoes.

Note: If you can't get into Bestor's concert, there are some great CDs to be found, including "Evening Angels," "Innovators," "Seasons," his two "Airus Christmas" recordings and another new release, the soundtrack from "Rigoletto" (not the opera).