Although it is a world-renowned ensemble, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir should not be content to rest on its laurels, according to director Craig Jessop.
"We don't want to be put in a box," Jessop said. "We need to reach out and expand our horizons."
And one of the ways to do that is to bring in a wide array of respected guest artists — such as Peter Graves and Audra McDonald this year — for the choir's annual holiday concerts with the Orchestra at Temple Square.
During a news conference Friday in the LDS Conference Center to publicize the concerts Friday night and tonight, McDonald said she is thrilled to be a part of the choir's Christmas program.
The singer, actor and four-time Tony Award-winner said she's also a bit overwhelmed about singing in such a gargantuan hall. "It's thrilling singing in this immense space. It's bigger than any Broadway house I've ever sung in."
Graves, an actor (TV's "Mission Impossible," "Airplane!") and TV host (A&E "Biography"), said that he has been listening to Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcasts since his youth. "I've listened to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for as many years back as I can remember. I've always cherished those Sunday morning broadcasts. And it wasn't just the music I cherished, but also the good sense of basic values I got from the 'Music and the Spoken Word.' "
Graves and Jessop have known each other for many years, going back to when Jessop was a member of the Singing Sergeants. "I did some stuff with them," Graves said, "when they were singing in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. They always did some narration with their Christmas concerts, and I was invited to perform at one of them. That was where Craig and I first met."
Joining McDonald and Graves at the choir's Christmas concerts will be Ballet West principal dancers Maggie Wright and Kristin Hakala.
At the news conference, Wright said that she also has a personal connection to the choir. Charles Thomas, who conducted the choir at the end of the 19th century, was her husband's great-great-grandfather. She has an engraved baton that was presented to him by the LDS Church in 1894.
Jessop praised the Orchestra at Temple Square, saying that the close collaboration enjoyed with the orchestra has allowed the choir to increase its repertoire. "With the addition of the Orchestra at Temple Square into our musical organization, we've been able to reinvent ourselves, expand our repertoire and bring in artists such as these."
Jessop also acknowledged that without the firm support of President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the success enjoyed by the choir and the orchestra would have been impossible. "Without President Hinckley's support, this would not have happened."
If you go . . .
What: "Christmas Concert," Peter Graves, Audra McDonald, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra at Temple Square
Where: LDS Conference Center
When: Tonight, 7:30 p.m.
How much: Free but tickets are required (all tickets have been distributed but standby seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis)
Phone: 240-0080 or 866-537-8457
Also: "Music and the Spoken Word" broadcast, Sunday, 9:30 a.m.