Mormon Tabernacle Choir Tours Northern Europe

“Mormon Tabernacle Choir Tours Northern Europe,” Ensign, Sept. 1982, 78–80

Mormon Tabernacle Choir Tours Northern Europe

“Music and the Spoken Word,” broadcast live via satellite from London’s Royal Albert Hall on June 20, was both a high water mark for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and a fitting climax to a triumphant tour of northern Europe June 6–20.

Thanks to the wizardry of modern electronics, the choir’s 2,757th consecutive broadcast was beamed across 6,000 miles and seven time belts. Thus, the CBS Network joined a live audience of 5,500 to share a little of the spontaneous communication and artistry that marked this, the choir’s twelfth international tour. The choir visited Norway, Sweden, and Finland for the first time, and Denmark, the Netherlands, and London on return visits.

In the ten concerts of the tour, the choir’s live audience totaled more than 25,000. Some concerts were broadcast live, and in every country tapes were made for later distribution via television or radio, or both.

Critical and popular acclaim flowed to the choir, one of the most widely recognized symbols of the Church, and one of its most powerful missionary tools. While citing a few technicalities, critics were uniformly favorable in their comments.

Arbeiderblad of Bergen perceived “an elite choir, in a class by itself … , fantastic effect, incomparable forte … ; only discipline and hard work could give so precise an effect.” “Astounding precision and discipline,” said Bergen’s Tidende. “Sure intonation, perfect sound,” commented the Stockholm Dagbladet.

Everywhere tickets were swept up in short order. In Oslo, where a concert was shoe-horned into the existing schedule at the eleventh hour, seats sold out in fifty-five minutes; in Stockholm, tickets were gone in two hours. “We could have sold four concerts,” lamented the local impresario. In Royal Albert, only some expensive box seats remained unsold.

Of course, many of the seats went to Scandinavia’s 18,000 Saints, who gathered in from the frost-bitten reaches of Norway, from the outposts of Lapland, and from the remote islands of Denmark. But many more seats went to music lovers in the tour’s capital cities, where the choir is well-known and loved.

Indeed, John and Ruth Webber, official choir hosts who traveled the tour route in advance arranging its schedule, said they had not talked to anyone, from chance acquaintances on the street to the busiest government official, who did not know something about the choir and its work.

The choir’s tour repertory leaned heavily on standard classical fare—Handel and Mozart, Brahms (the German Requiem) and Mendelssohn (Elijah and a setting of Psalm 42), [Ps. 42] and works of Edvard Grieg. Pleasantly contemporary anthems, favorite operatic and oratorio choruses, and beloved show tunes and hymns of the choir’s recordings found a ready audience.

How can one analyze the spirit with which the choir sings, the effect it has on its listeners? Without doubt its good musicians are remarkable people as well—doctors and lawyers, businessmen and women, dozens of teachers (many of whom teach voice or direct choirs of their own), professional entertainers, and homemakers.

Yet the choir’s spirit adds up to more than the sum of its parts; and its collective breath, its outpouring of propulsive music, irresistibly moving forward, purposeful and persuasive, thrilled its listeners everywhere.

In the concert halls, audiences reacted in a predictable pattern, progressing from polite acceptance to absorbed interest, then to rhythmic clapping and standing ovations—demonstrations that seldom occur in the reserved Nordic lands. Listeners demanded one encore after another until they finally earned “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” (the choir’s signature piece), followed by “God Be With You,” which set a seal on the evening.

In these gracious northern lands, girls in folk costume drop a curtsy and offer flowers to both men and women soloists. In Aalborg, conductor Jerold Ottley received a large laurel wreath; and in Helsinki, choir president Oakley S. Evans accepted a handsome hand-woven wall hanging. In Copenhagen, the choir received an engraved plaque.

To many choir members who have ancestral ties to northern Europe, the tour offered a bonus attraction—a chance to contact relatives, some unknown beforehand. Swedish and Danish audiences loved folk songs with verses sung by choir members born in those lands, and audiences everywhere appreciated the songs, often national anthems, performed in their native tongues.

On tour, the choir’s 325 members are never its total entourage. In this instance, husbands, wives and other family members, choir staff, media representatives, and tour sponsors swelled the ranks to 551 travelers on the go—all that could be accommodated on the Greek cruise liner Oceanos, which served as a floating hotel for ten days.

The choir first appeared in Scandinavia at Bergen, Norway, where on, June 7 and 8, they proved to be the climactic attraction at the Bergen International Music Festival. They sang first for 3,700 in the large conference-oriented Bergenhallen, then in the exquisite Grieghallen, home of the festival and namesake hall of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.

Traveling by train over the top of beautiful, wooded Norway, the choir dropped down into Oslo on June 9 to sing in that city’s gleaming new Concerthus. There security guards cleared the halls, making way for Norway’s hardy King Olav V, who reportedly enjoyed the concert, especially “Discovery” by Grieg.

A post-concert plane ride carried the choir to the Oceanos, at dock in Stockholm harbor. Two days of sightseeing and rest in the Swedish capital culminated in a concert on June 11 in the Concert Hall, a classic old building of Grecian design, and home of the Nobel awards.

After a cruise through Baltic waters, the choir entered Helsinki harbor singing “Finlandia” and were greeted at dockside by U.S. Ambassador and Mrs. Keith F. Nyborg. The city’s spacious Finlandia Hall was the scene of a concert on Helsinki Day, June 12.

A two days’ sail across the Baltic Sea, this time from east to west, took the choir to Copenhagen, where they performed two lively concerts in the Tivoli Garden Concert Hall on June 14 and 15. They next embarked for Aalborg in northern Denmark, seat of the Danish Society in Support of the Salt Lake Mormon Tabernacle Choir. There, on June 16, they entertained an enthusiastic audience of 2,300.

Rotterdam’s de Doelen Concertgebouw, as mellow and rich as the inside of a cello, was the scene of an acoustical triumph on June 18. The next day, the singers left for London. On the hospitality side, choir members especially relished a lavish Scandinavian buffet, hosted by Litality side, choir members especially relished a lavish Scandinavian buffet, hosted by Lord Mayor Egon Weidekamp at Copenhagen City Hall. Luncheons and receptions brought contact with Eilert Eilertsen, Mayor of Bergen, and Halfdan Wiberg, chairman of the Bergen Festival, also with U.S. Ambassador and Mrs. Mark Evans Austad in Oslo, and Ambassador and Mrs. Nyborg in Helsinki, all active Latter-day Saints. In Stockholm, Salt Lake-born Ambassador Franklin S. Forsberg and Mrs. Forsberg entertained. Choir officials were received at the Hague by U.S. Ambassador and Mrs. William Deis; and in London, U.S. Ambassador and Mrs. John J. Louis attended the concert.

The choir’s pops quartet, the Dimension, provided many enjoyable moments at these affairs, climaxing their European adventure with a command performance at an exclusive dinner and dance hosted by Queen Margrethe of Denmark.

Returning home with full hearts and happy memories, choir members recalled the beauty of the lands they visited and the kindness of the people. But most of all they treasured the moments when the singers’ spirits and those of the audience touched, as heart met heart through the universal language of inspired music.

  • Dorothy Stowe, music critic for the Deseret News, is a member of the Ensign Third Ward, Salt Lake City, where she teaches Cultural Refinement lessons in Relief Society and is chairman of the music committee for her ward.

Photography by Eldon Linschoten

The choir in its final concert in London’s Royal Albert Hall, June 20.

Tabernacle Choir director Jerold Ottley with a large laurel wreath the choir received in Aalborg, Denmark.

Stockholm, capital of Sweden, where the choir performed June 11 in the Concert Hall.