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Q&A: For the U.'s Barlow Bradford, heaven is conducting a very good choir

SALT LAKE CITY — Since he was a child, Barlow Bradford has made music in Utah.

Whether through conducting, performing, arranging, composing or teaching, the Ellen Neilsen Barnes Presidential Chair of Choral Studies at the University of Utah has elevated Utah's already robust music scene through passion and in-depth musical knowledge. In 1991, Bradford created and continues to lead the nationally renowned Utah Chamber Artists as director, as well as lead the Utah Symphony Chorus and the U.'s Chamber and A Cappella choirs. From 1999-2003, he served as first conductor of the Orchestra at Temple Square and as an associate conductor for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. His compositions have been performed by multiple national symphonies and his arrangements are used around the world.

The Utah Chamber Artists' annual fall concert will be Sept. 18 and 19 at the Cathedral of the Madeleine at 8 p.m. This event is free to the public, but attendees should arrive early as these concerts tend to fill up quickly.

Editors note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. News: What does a choir bring to a community?

Barlow Bradford: Community and choir — this is a marriage made in heaven, whatever heaven is; I don’t know. But that is what heaven would be to me: beautiful music with beautiful, beautiful sounding choirs.

And that ultimately is what it is for me here.

When they are singing at their best … it transports you to another place that you don’t experience — at least that I don’t experience — anywhere else in this world. I’m not sure what that place is, but it is magical.… I really do believe that within a choir is a microcosm of a successful society and the reason I say that is because what you have in this is people coming from all walks of life and from every thought. Here in Utah you can argue and say that we don’t have a lot of variety … well, that’s actually not true. I really think that we have as much variety as we do anywhere in terms of thought and feeling and understanding and the ways that we see life; it’s humanity.

… The one thing that I just love about this is that each individual in there actually interprets that experience for themselves, they are not being told what they should feel — it’s for them, and yet there was a unified presentation and a unified experience. … For me, there is where a successful society could lie.

DN: How have your choirs been embraced here? Have you found that unification in Utah?

BB: Absolutely. … I have two university choirs, the Utah Symphony Chorus and Utah Chamber Artists. They are all local people — everybody lives on the Wasatch Front and they bring a certain community to this whole thing and I think that’s fantastic. And we do, by the way, have really good singers.

DN: Is there something unique about the music community in Utah?

BB: I know that if I say no that there will be plenty of people who will feel offended by that because we all like to feel that we’re the special thing. I think that what we create here is beautiful and unique and you would say yes, that is its own thing. However, could it be created someplace else? Yes, it could be.

Now, I’m going to flip the answer and say yes, it's unique in this way: … every choir that I have is its own instrument. I think that every artistic situation in any given community is its own instrument because it does take a conductor, singers and … musicians, but then it also takes donors that believe in what you’re doing. This is not just a group of people who say "here’s a little money." My experience has been — which has been unique — people have said "we believe in what this means and what this is going to bring to the community and what it does bring to the community." … But that doesn’t mean that things similar couldn’t be created elsewhere, and it has on a regular basis.

DN: It does seem that there are an outsized amount of singers here in Utah.

BB: We do have a lot of singers here, but you know, Minnesota has a ton of choirs, Seattle has a ton of choirs — those are two huge choral centers in this country. I did guest conducting in Slovenia last year they told me one of the jokes in Slovenia is when there are four Slovenians in a room you have soprano, alto, tenor, bass. In their little country they have 2,000 registered choirs — 2,000 registered choirs — it's incredible, (they have) the population of Utah, probably smaller. (Editor's note: As of 2016, Utah's population was 3.051 million and Slovenia's was 2.065 million)

DN: What would you want people to know about the upcoming concert?

BB: I took my family to Hawaii this last March. We went into this shop on the south shore of Kauai with all of these crystal bowls. … You take the mallet around the rim of the bowl and it starts singing; it will fill the entire room with sound, depending on the size of the bowl. And the sound was just so beautiful that I needed that sound with my choir … (so I asked) "where are they made?" And (the shop owner) said, "Oh, in Salt Lake City; I think it’s in a place called Mill Creek."

Well, that’s where I live. Come to find out this bowl shop is less than a mile from my house. Their bowls are sold in shops all over the world — I think they are considered to be the finest crystal bowls manufactured. So … I went over and told them I want to do a concert with these bowls and they basically gave me free rein in their shop.

… My son was writing this piece … for my mother (who the concert is dedicated to) for choir and string orchestra and crystal bowls, because the sound of the bowl is so healing and beautiful and that’s what (my mother) was about — she was very much of a healing person.

We have a total of 14 crystal bowls and they will be playing in various places in the cathedral through the entire concert. … I can tell you, you cannot get this on a recording — this is about being there. I think it's going to be something quite remarkable.

If you go …

What: Utah Chamber Artists' "In memoriam"

When: Sept. 18 and 19, 2017, 8 p.m.

Where: Cathedral of the Madeleine, 331 E S Temple