Kurt Bestor taps Park City talent for intimate Christmas concerts
When Emmy Award-winning composer Kurt Bestor performs his annual acoustic concerts in Park City next weekend, he will mark the end of a very busy holiday season.
This year, the Salt-Lake based bandleader put together three shows, starting with an appearance in Logan with the American Festival Choir, a 300-voice chorus led by Dr. Craig Jessop.
"It had a full orchestra and I had to do a whole different type of orchestration," Bester told The Park Record. "Then I’ll do my show in Salt Lake, which I obviously put a lot of time in that."
Bestor will finish the season with three concerts at the Egyptian Theatre on Wednesday, Dec. 23, Thursday, Dec. 24 and Friday, Dec. 25.
"Of al the shows, I especially love playing the Egyptian Theatre because it is a relaxing and enjoyable gig," Bestor said. "I don’t know if that is because it’s the last one of the season, or that the people are really chill, but I do know the band and I like doing it."
This year, Bestor has asked two Park City-based musicians to participate in the concerts.
"I thought it would be fun to highlight them because there is so much talent up there," he said. "This is a way to say, ‘Hey, Park City. You have some great musical treasures up here.’"
The first artist is singer, songwriter and pianist Teresa Eggertsen-Cooke, who will perform on Dec. 23 and Dec. 25.
"I actually grew up with Teresa," Bestor said. "So, we’re longtime buds and I worked with her husband in the advertising business as well."
The other local musician is singer and guitarist Elizabeth Hareza, who will perform on Dec. 24.
"I did a radio interview with Peggy Ijams on KPCW last week and this girl who was interviewed right before me pulled out this guitar and started to play," Bestor said. "I was taken by her voice and her performing style."
All of the songs performed at the Egyptian will be acoustic-based.
"It’s Kurt Bestor unstrung," the composer said laughing. "I really have to reconceptualize the music to ensure it translates smoothly."
One song, "O, Holy Night," has been a challenge to transcribe.
"Normally when I do it, I play flugelhorn and I have an orchestra backing me up," Bestor said. "People really respond to it and I’ve always wanted to play it acoustically, but never could make it translate."
This year, Bestor believes he found the secret.
"I’ve re arranged it so that guitar, bass and piano play backup," he said.
Other than that song, most of the other pieces Bestor transcribes do work acoustically.
"I think that’s because most of the songs are harmonically based," he said. "I remember when Kurt Cobain [and Nirvana] did their unplugged concert, many people didn’t think their songs would work, but I thought it did and I love that concert because I thought the music worked great that way."
Bestor feels his compositions work the same way.
"I mean, if you hear them back-to-back, you will probably say, ‘Wow. That’s a lot different,’ but when you just hear the piano-only version, it seems to get right to the soul," he said. "The colors fit the size of the hall and the intimacy of the whole thing."
Over the past six years since Bestor started performing intimate Christmas concerts at the Egyptian Theatre, he has seen many familiar faces in the audience.
"Some of the people who are coming to Park City also attend my Salt Lake concerts," he said. "Some of these people have told me that they actually prefer the intimate show.
"That’s something that I have wanted to convey with these concerts," Bestor said. "It’s not like one show is the Mercedes and one is the Yugo. These are two different vehicles altogether."
As the case has been with all of his past annual concerts, Bestor has written and will perform a new carol.
"Last year, I did a carol called ‘Utah Is Christmas to Me’ and we made fun of funeral potatoes and all of that," he said. "This time was different."
The idea for the new song came during an interview with KSL TV’s Carole Mikita a day after the terrorist attacks in Paris.
"I told her about my trip to Paris last August and I told her that it was cool being in the City of Lights," Bestor said. "When I said, ‘City of Lights’ I stopped and thought that would be a cool metaphor for Christmas, and I told her we had just stumbled onto the new song this year."
Bestor started writing the song a few minutes later and finished it up that night.
"The song is called ‘Carol of the Lights,’ because you have lights in the city, lights on the Christmas trees and they obviously harken back to the original star that shone over Bethlehem," he said. "I was kind of excited how it all worked out. It was a nice creative, serendipitous thing.
"When I think of my new carol, I normally think about what’s going on in the world or what’s going on in my life," he said. "Now, this may sound like I’m being maudlin, but I honestly believe that the humanities helps us stay human and we need them more than ever. So, but using my music, the part of the humanities that I put forth, I feel like it’s not just a nice little thing at Christmastime, but important. I feel that humans need the arts because they elevate us above the animalistic behavior that is being demonstrated by too many people around the world."
For nearly 30 years, Bestor has brought some humanity to those who sometimes get caught up in the commercialism of the season.
His performances have become traditions for many families, who often call him "Mr. Christmas."
"My joke response to that is putting myself behind the guy from Jerusalem and the guy from the North Pole," Bestor said with another laugh. "It does make me uncomfortable, but I appreciate it because it suggests that when they think of Christmas music, they think of what I have done.
"There are people who have literally grown up with my shows, and now they’re bringing their kids," he said. "I feel honored, as well as old, but as a musician, you want people to listen to your heart and message through music, so I can’t ask for more."
Emmy Award-winning composer Kurt Bestor will continue his holiday tradition of bringing acoustic Christmas concerts to the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., from Wednesday, Dec. 23, to Friday, Dec. 25. Wednesday’s performance will begin at 8 p.m. The Thursday and Friday concerts will start at 6 p.m. Tickets range from $29 to $45 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com.
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