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Music of the Games

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The simple designation "Olympic athlete" carries a profound recognition of inner fire and dedication, a deep acknowledgement of effort and sacrifice and ability beyond the norm.

It is not a title given lightly; it must be earned by intense endeavor. But once bestowed, it remains for a lifetime, a reminder always that this person brought an extra measure of skill, an extra level of grace to sport. Not all will stand on the medals podium. But every one who carries this name shares qualities of determination and excellence that inspire and enrich us all.

Translate this notion into music ? as Kurt Bestor and Sam Cardon have done ? and you have a striking celebration of the passion that burns within every Olympic athlete. You have "Innovators II: Keepers of the Flame."

Part of the 2002 Winter Games Cultural Olympiad, the project includes a CD, now in stores, and a multimedia concert, which will be presented Feb. 4 and 12-14 in Kingsbury Hall.

The composers tell the story by focusing on nine different athletes. "There were hundreds of stories, great human stories, that we could have used," said Cardon, so narrowing the field was a daunting task. In the end, he said, they looked for stories that were inspiring but also stories that offered creative musical challenges.

In the finished product, you hear a variety of musical styles and genres ? everything from classical to jazz, pop and world music. "It's very eclectic, because the athletes are very eclectic," said Bestor.

The Olympiad concert will combine this music with film footage from Bud Greenspan, still photography, sound clips, dancing, a 15-piece world orchestra, a gospel choir and more.

It's very different from the first "Innovators" show, based on their 1996 album, which was presented in concert form around the country, as well as on PBS in March 2000, said Randy Blosil, executive producer of the project.

But it was after that PBS debut that the men began thinking about an "Innovators" sequel and then about an Olympics tie-in. "Word got back to SLOC what we were thinking, and they invited us to pitch the idea to them. They liked it and invited us to create a show for the 2002 Olympic Arts Festival," said Blosil.

"Keepers of the Flame" treats "sport as an art form and music as an athletic endeavor," he said. And there really are natural connections between the two.

"The dedication, the passion, the need to practice day after day after day are similar for athletes and for musicians," said Bestor. "Plus, look at the orchestrated synchronization of a bobsled team or the jazz-like improvisation of a hockey team. And look at how many artistic metaphors are used in sport, as they talk about the grace of a Michael Jordan or poetry in motion of a Mark McGwire swing."

Both Bestor and Cardon have a sports background of their own (Bestor in swimming and skiing; Cardon in basketball), so they approached the musical treatment of sport with a deep appreciation on both sides.

"The Olympics are sport at its highest level, and there really is something very noble in the effort put forth by the athletes," said Bestor. "For many of them, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. They have one shot to reach as close to perfection as they can. They do light the fire within; and there's almost a touch of divinity in that kind of effort. The Olympics are the pinnacle of human achievement in sport. And that's what we try to convey in the music."

For Cardon and Bestor, "Keepers of the Flame" represents their own Olympic circle, said Blosil. "Their first big national collaboration was for the 1988 Olympics in Calgary." They won an Emmy for the work they did there, which included, among other things, writing theme music for up-close-and-personal spots, often written on the spot and at the site to be aired that evening.

"That was a great experience," said Cardon. "We were there for five weeks, at the epicenter of the world at that time, as they hosted the world's biggest party. That's something you never forget."

And that, adds Bestor, is the feeling Salt Lake City is going to get. "A lot of people don't realize yet just how special it is going to be." The Olympics are a choice experience, and the men are excited to be involved. (In addition to "Keepers of the Flame," they are doing music for the opening and closing ceremonies and have been involved in other Olympic-related projects.)

"It's an honor," said Cardon, "but it's also a responsibility. It's a risk. We can fail." Just as the athletes do, they have to put their best effort out there for the world to judge. "But I've always felt sorry for those who toss away opportunities because they were afraid of the risks. I did not want to be one of them."

This collaboration is the latest in a long line of efforts between the two men, who met as students at Brigham Young University in the late 1970s. "We discovered we had similar tastes; we both felt kind of like fish out of water because we were interested in contemporary music and writing for other media," said Cardon. "So we decided to collaborate rather than compete. And we became fast friends."

Working with someone who is on the same creative page, who shares the same long-term goals is an exciting process, he said. "Our personalities are quite opposite," Cardon said, "but we've learned each other's musical vocabulary. We've developed a kind of shorthand so we know where the other one is going."

And, he said, they've developed confidence in their own abilities so that they can give ? and take ? criticism. "We each have our strengths. Kurt has more classical training; I have a strong contemporary musical background."

"Sam is strong in harmonic structure," Bestor added. "I'm better at melodic elements."

But, that's not to say that it's always easy. "The most rewarding thing about this project was that we had to stretch," Bestor said. "Sam makes me stretch; we push each other."

Take the Franz Klammer piece, for example. "We decided the best way to portray this frenzied, downhill ski race was with a violin solo," said Bestor. So, he studied Bach; he studied Paganini; he tried to find out everything he could about what a violin can do. "It was like a mini-graduate course in violin." The finished piece is very difficult to play. Then the challenge was finding someone who could play it.

"Luckily, we have someone of that caliber right here ? world-renowned violinist Igor Gruppman. Of course, he took one look at it and raised his rates," Bestor said with a laugh. "But then he took it and raised it to yet another level."

And that, said Bestor, has been another great thing about this project. "The quality of talent we have here is amazing."

The musical stories the men tell range from those of such athletes as Jessie Owens, who overcame obstacles to triumph at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler's Berlin (a piece involving a Wagneresque theme overlaid with a bluesy jazz trumpet); Dick Fosbury, who pioneered the famous flop (done in a lighthearted, fun mode); the tragic love story of skaters Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov (featuring a pax de deux of violin and cello); and Mirsada Buric, from war-torn Yugoslavia, whose training was interrupted by a stay in a concentration camp. Buric's goal was not to medal but simply to finish the race. And she did.

"If we have done our job," said Cardon, "people will come away from the concert not only entertained but moved on an emotional level. We want them to be touched, exhilarated. We want them to have fun, but also to celebrate the human spirit. We want them to be uplifted and inspired."

Because, say the men, it doesn't end here. The phrase "Keepers of the Flame" carries with it not only a sense of precious possession, but also the notion of legacy, of something that must be protected so it can be passed on.

And the Olympic athletes of 2002 will be adding their passion to the eternal fire.

E-mail: carma@desnews.com