Jerry Earl Johnston: A spirit-soaked night of song in Cache Valley with Morten Lauridsen

Apr 23, 2017

It’s always fun when a town from the provinces upstages Salt Lake City in the arts.

It happened when the Hale Center Theater in Orem landed Audra McDonald, queen of the Tony Awards, for the lead role in one of its shows.

And it happened again last Saturday night when Morten Lauridsen, recipient of the National Medal of Arts, appeared with Craig Jessop’s American Festival Chorus and the Utah State University Chamber Singers in Logan.

Lauridsen is considered the most important choral composer in America today. For those whose souls vibrate to the same mystical pitch, his music can be life-changing.

And the performers in Logan played and sang their hearts out for the man. In a film clip before the performance, celebrated Catholic poet Dana Gioia claimed Lauridsen’s music would be performed 200 years from now because of its beauty and authority. He called the composer a genius.

If so, he’s a genius in jeans — as human and open as Albert Einstein on a bicycle.

Throughout the performance, the composer stood house left with a microphone, teaching, praising, encouraging and cautioning, not unlike a celebrant at a religious service.

“A cabaret song,” he said of one of his pieces, “your standard 32-bar pop tune.”

Of the French “Dirait-on,” perhaps his most-performed piece, he mused how he built the whole thing around “a throw-away line.”

In the world of Lauridsen — a world where music is spirit-soaked — there’s no such thing as fancy or plain, no lowbrow or highbrow. There’s only authenticity and everything else.

I’ve attended many events at the Eccles Theater in Logan. I’ve seldom heard an audience respond with more spontaneous passion.

At the end of the evening, Jessop and many others on stage were in tears. Lauridsen thanked them all and said he’d be flying to Los Angeles the next day, but he would “always remember this moment.”

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What Lauridsen didn’t say was that in Los Angeles, the internationally acclaimed Los Angeles Master Chorale awaited his arrival for the grand climax to its season. At that event, those who want to spend a personal minute with the composer can attend a reception at $750 a pop.

In Logan, the best seat in the house was $22. And as for a personal minute, those willing to open themselves to the music spent 90 personal minutes with him.

Like Lauridsen, I, too, will remember my Logan moment, the night before Easter in 2017 when Lauridsen’s music made Cache Valley the place to be — not only in Utah but in the world of spiritual music as well.