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Utah Choral Artists send chills up spine

CHORAL ARTISTS, Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah, Saturday.

The Utah Choral Artists entertained their audience this Halloween weekend with thrills and chills — of a different kind.

Assembling a some 300-voice ensemble, the group literally brought surround-sound concert to the Libby Gardner Concert Hall. Sitting in the middle of the majesty of that sound was enough to give chills to audience members.

The concert was titled "Banquet of Voices," and it served up some very rich dishes.

The focus for this concert was antiphonal music — that is, separate choirs singing back and forth to each other, frequently from across the concert hall. This meant that many of the pieces had some pretty dense counterpoint, a lot of it taken from the baroque and Renaissance periods.

Of course, the Utah Baroque Ensemble also took part in this concert, so that era of music was most appropriate.

They also drew from many other genres. In fact, some of the most stunning pieces came from modern composers, such as Carter's "The Splendor Falls," Dan Locklair's "For Amber Waves" and the hauntingly beautiful "Mi'kmaq Honor Song," which featured wind, bird and animal sounds called out from various points in the hall.

Biebl's "Ave Maria" allowed another guest group, the University of Utah Singers, to showcase the members' beautiful young sound. And the a cappella "Antiphon for God the Father" — obviously a terrifically difficult work — found the U. Singers up to the task.

Linda Margetts provided some of the accompaniment on the organ, as well as a delightful prelude/processional, as the choirs filed in and got settled. They also included some instrumentalists — brass, winds and strings, whose performances were up to par.

The concert was well attended, but the audience seemed to be most dense in the back half of the hall. Normally that's a good place to sit for a choir concert, since the sound is more blended back there. But with so many antiphonal effects in this concert, the front half of the hall was really the best place in order to really get the full effect of hearing people singing on your right, then on your left, and sometimes even in back of you. (I tried out both spots.)

About the only drawback to sitting in the front half was the guy on the seventh row on the right side who — even after somebody passed him a note asking him to be quiet — kept pushing beeping buttons on his electronic device.

Another interesting aspect to this concert was the logistics of moving around the various choirs — the three choirs of the Utah Choral Artists, the Utah Baroque Ensemble and the University Singers and A Cappella Choir — between the songs.

Usually conductor Allred would talk about the upcoming song while the various choirs shifted smoothly to their next location. It wasn't disruptive, but it definitely was a much busier stage than one normally sees in a concert.