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Mormon Tabernacle Choir reunited with ailing maestro

CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra opened its concert Thursday with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir by playing "Celebration Fanfare."

There was plenty to celebrate on the first stop of the choir's 13-day tour.

The Cincinnati concert was part of a series celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Riverbend Music Center, located on the north bank of the Ohio River. And it included an appearance by former astronaut Neil Armstrong, who 40 years ago next month became the first man to walk on the moon.

Armstrong was brought onstage to narrate Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait," which was performed to mark the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth.

The greater cause for celebration, however, was the joyful reunion of maestro Erich Kunzel with "his" choir from Salt Lake City.

This is the third time Kunzel, hailed by the Chicago Tribune as "The Prince of Pops," has directed the choir in concert. The first collaboration came when the choir performed at Riverbend during its 2007 tour. Last fall, he directed the choir and Utah Symphony in Salt Lake City.

Kunzel's association with the choir dates back to 2005, when his pops orchestra recorded the musical score in Cincinnati and the choir did the vocal overlay in Salt Lake City for an album of three choral suites by Miklos Rozsa, including "Ben Hur," "Quo Vadis" and King of Kings."

"The Tabernacle Choir is mine," he told the Deseret News as the orchestra and choir came together for a two-hour rehearsal Thursday afternoon. "I love them. That's why they're here."

Choir members have expressed concern for the maestro, recently diagnosed with cancer in his colon, pancreas and liver. In the final weeks of preparation for the concert, Kunzel vowed that he would be at Riverbend to welcome the choir as it began its summer tour. He kept his word.

As the choir's caravan of buses pulled into the center's parking lot during a light rain Thursday, the maestro was waiting to greet them.

The choir will perform with the Orchestra at Temple Square during the remainder of the tour.

The concert series continues with performances in St. Louis (Scott Trade Center, June 20); Des Moines, Iowa (Iowa Events Center, June 22); Omaha, Neb. (Holland Performing Arts, June 23); Kansas City, Mo. (Sprint Center); Norman, Okla., (University of Oklahoma campus, June 27); and Denver (Red Rocks Amphitheater, June 29).