Kurt Bestor’s ‘Silent Night’ shows are gifts for Park City
December 20, 2011
Last Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Utah’s own Emmy Award-winning composer Kurt Bestor performed two intimate solo-piano concerts at the Egyptian Theatre.
Bestor, who has written the score to more than 40 films and has released 16 CDs, said he was glad to be invited back this year.
"We had a great time and when they called me this year, I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,’" Bestor said during an interview with The Park Record. "What I love about these concerts is the fact they capture the way I like playing, anyway. It’s just me and the piano and the audience just kind of sits in on it. The shows are intimate and personal music-making for me."
Kurt Bestor’s "One Silent Night" will return to the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 24 and 25, at 6 p.m.
"People always raise their eyebrows when the hear that and ask me,. ‘You’re going to perform on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?’ like it’s some sort of sacrilege," he said with a laugh. "Actually, Park City is the perfect place for shows on those days because people come to town during the season and on Christmas they may open some presents in the morning, but then go out and ski. They might not have any cultural events to attend on Christmas and I thought, ‘I could be that guy’ that would provide a chance for them.
"Also, I have so many friends and connections up there and the thing is I will probably go skiing during the day and come back in time for sound check and then play the shows," he said.
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Bestor said if it wasn’t for the concerts, he would be alone on Christmas.
"My wife is in Africa and my parents our out of town, so I don’t have anyone to share Christmas with, except with the people in Park City," he said. "After I finish the shows, I get to leave the next day to go be with my wife."
The concerts are different from Bestor’s trademark holiday extravaganzas that he performs at Abravanel Hall earlier in the month.
"I do like talking to the audience, and since the Egyptian Theatre is so intimate, the audience is just right there," he said. "I almost felt like I was in my living room."
Bestor is able to connect on a different level with the audience at the Egyptian.
"I can really talk and joke with them, and, last year, I even brought one guy up on stage to join me," he said.
The concert will consist of seasonal songs that have been arranged by Bestor.
"I play a lot of different styles – jazz, classical – and some traditional and original carols," he said. "People may not have heard ‘Silent Night’ the way I play, but I do attach enough of the melody to the arrangements that will give them a surprise.
Hopefully, it’s a welcome surprise."
Folk and early-era songs such as "The Coventry Carol" and "O Come Emmanuel" are a couple of Bestor’s favorite Christmas songs.
"I’ve always liked the traditional songs," he said. "I’m not talking about songs like ‘Frosty the Snowman,’ because that’s not traditional to me. I’m talking about the songs that make you feel like you’re going back into the 1500s. In light of that, probably ‘What Child Is This’ is my favorite in that genre."
He also likes "Good King Wenceslas."
"There are some songs that lend themselves well to arranging and ‘Good King Wenceslas’ is one of those songs," he said. "I’ve arranged that song three different ways. I have an original arrangement on my first album. I did a jazz version saxophone five years ago and for the last concert, I did a different kind of jazz version.
"I don’t know why it lends itself so well for that, but certain Christmas songs just arrange easily," he said.
Bestor also likes playing Vince Guaraldi’s "Christmas Time Is Here" from " A Charlie Brown Christmas."
"That’s one of those songs that has, in my lifetime, become a holiday standard," he said. "When you hear those little kids sing it on TV, you really feel that it’s Christmas."
The Park City concerts will be mostly instrumental, with some occasional singing.
"There will also be some funny moments. Last year, I grabbed my trumpet and harmonica and played them all and the piano on one song. That was a trick, and I didn’t get hurt, but came close."
Bestor has been playing Christmas concerts for the past 24 years and says he got into doing them because he needed a hook.
"I tell you honestly, that the way I got into recording music back in 1987, was a little underhanded," he said with a laugh. "I wanted to record music, but people didn’t know who I was. So, I thought if I could put my own slant on well-known Christmas songs, because everybody likes or knows Christmas music, people may pay attention to me and I could sneak in the back door.
"Once people heard and resonated with what I was doing, I found that I really love playing those songs," he said.
Throughout his career, the hardest song Bestor has arranged was "O Holy Night."
"It’s not musically tough, but it takes a long time to get through it," he said. "I mean if you take ‘Deck the Halls,’ it’s very quick, and once you get to the ‘fa la la la la’s,’ that’s about it.
"With ‘O Holy Night,’ getting through one verse and a chorus takes more than a minute and a half, which is a long time," he said.
There’s another reason why Bestor doesn’t like the song.
"There was a lady who would sing it and she had a terrible octave-wide vibrato that was just ear piercing," he said with a laugh. "I didn’t like the song because it brought back those memories, but I will do a version of the song during the Park City show."
Like "O Holy Night," Christmas songs touch people in various ways, Bestor said.
"One of the reasons why I like playing Christmas concerts is because people attach memories and feelings to those Christmas melodies," he explained. "If I play certain songs they may remember a poignant, late-night memory of Christmas Eve or sleigh riding with the family. There are all kinds of memories that will come.
"Except for the most jaded person, I think Christmas music touches people universally, old, young and in-between."
As in the case with every Kurt Bestor annual Christmas concert, he will give the audience a gift.
"They will be able to take home the sheet music to a new Christmas song I’ve written this year," he said.
Writing a new carol each year is one of his favorite things to do, and the inspiration came quickly.
"I was upstairs at the piano and looking outside at my neighbor’s yard and thinking about how it seems the topic of conversation these days has everybody using negative words to describe everything from the elections and economics," Bestor said.
The scenario reminded Bestor of Dr. Seuss’ "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas."
"The Grinch, or should I say, the Economy, has stolen everything, but we’re still going to sing, ‘You still can’t take that away from us.,’" Bestor said. "So I wrote a song that is purposely up-tempo and happy. The song is called ‘It’s Christmas and the Whole World Sings.’
"I had a lot of fun with it and I’m going to singing it in Park City and people can take home the sheet music as a gift and try to play it themselves at home," he said.
Emmy Award-winning composer Kurt Bestor will present "One Silent Night," an intimate solo-piano holiday concert at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., on Saturday, Dec. 24, and Sunday, Dec. 25, at 6 p.m. Tickets are $15 to $35 and available at http://www.parkcityshows.com.