The annual Madeleine Award honors the men and women whose contributions have made a difference in Utah’s cultural life.
Craig Jessop, this year’s recipient, certainly fills the requirements. He has been a major player in Utah’s rich musical heritage, first in Salt Lake City as the director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and more recently in Logan as the dean of the Caine College of the Arts at Utah State University and also as the director of the American Festival Chorus. Speaking of the award he said, “I’m humbled by it and honored.”
The award dinner takes place on May 9 at 6 p.m. in the Alta Club. For information and to make reservations call the cathedral office at 801-328-8941.
The Cathedral of the Madeleine and Jessop have had a long and mutually rewarding association. Jessop has conducted the cathedral choir in J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion and invited them to perform on the Music and the Spoken Word broadcasts several times when he was the Tabernacle Choir director. He also brought his American Festival Chorus to the cathedral for a performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem in November 2011.
Part of the reason there has been such a close working relationship between the cathedral and Jessop is the mutual respect and admiration he and Gregory Glenn, director of music at the cathedral, have for each other. “I’m close to Greg,” Jessop said. “He is such a great man. He has developed the finest Catholic music program in the United States, perhaps even in the world.”
Jessop has also done more than his share in putting Utah on the international musical map with his work with the Tabernacle Choir, which he directed from 1999 to 2008. And he continues to do so with the American Festival Chorus. “I’m glad to be bringing this great repertoire to this region of Utah,” he said. “And I am proud of the singers and instrumentalists.”
And Jessop hasn’t shied away from introducing Logan audiences to some wonderful masterworks. In the last few years the chorus has, in addition to the War Requiem, performed J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and B minor Mass. And in August the maestro and his singers will give the northern Utah premiere of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis.
Moving from Salt Lake City to Logan has been like a homecoming for Jessop, who is originally from Cache Valley. “I was born in Millville,” he said, “ and my mom still lives there.”
Nothing in his family background would have indicated that Jessop would end up becoming a musician. A fourth generation Cache Valley native, Jessop’s great grandfather came to the area in the 1860s and settled down. “My family are horsemen, cowboys and farmers,” Jessop said. “I came off a different branch. My brother is the athlete and cowboy. I was allowed to be a musician.”
His love of music must have been instinctive, because Jessop responded to music from a very young age. “Literally, my earliest memories are of music. I loved music, especially vocal music.” And even though his parents weren’t musical, they supported him and allowed him to nurture his musical talents. “I was also very lucky because I had some incredible teachers from first grade through junior high school.” Later on, his teachers included Bill Ramsey and Betty Jean Chipman.
As a professional, Jessop sang with the Robert Shaw Festival Singers, with Helmuth Rilling at the Oregon Bach Festival and spent a summer with John Rutter in Cambridge. Jessop has actually had an extensive background as a choral singer. Besides singing for Shaw and Rilling, he was the director of the U.S. Air Force’s Singing Sergeants and also spent several years singing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir under Richard Condie and Jerold Ottley. “I love to sing in a choir and be part of that glorious sound. It feeds my soul.”
Surprisingly, given his musical interest, Jessop originally didn’t want to pursue a career as a choral singer or conductor. His first love was opera. “I wanted to be an opera singer,” he said. He entered and won the district round of the Metropolitan Opera auditions and was a winner at the San Francisco Opera auditions. “I was an intern at [San Francisco Opera’s] Merola program. That was in the summer of 1976 when Kurt Herbert Adler was still general director. I came from that experience knowing that I did not want to be a singer, but a conductor.” It was a life changing event, he said. But he hasn’t given up singing. “I’m the resident funeral singer for my family,” he quipped. “And I’m honored that they ask me.”
As a choral conductor, Jessop is in demand around the country. In March he conducted the Dallas Symphony Chorus in two performances of Britten’s War Requiem at the American Choral Directors Association convention. And he returns to the Kennedy Center for the annual National Memorial Day Choral Festival concert on May 26. “This will be my fourth consecutive year conducting the concert,” he said. “We have a wonderful program of patriotic music that includes [Copland’s] Lincoln Portrait.” These concerts that honor America’s veterans are dear to his heart. “I love these opportunities,” he said.
With everything he’s done over the years, there are still a number of works he’d like to do. “I have a wish list a mile long.” On that list is Monteverdi’s Vespers, which he has scheduled for 2014 with his chorus. “I want to do that with authentic instruments.”
Jessop also wants to perform some large scale choral works by Vaughan Williams and Holst. “They are great mystics whose [choral] music has never been done here.”
Jessop believes that choral music is the most direct way to bond with people. “This music is exhilarating. People want it. Our concerts are well attended because people want that connection. They’re starving for it.” And many composers have written some of their best works for voice. Perhaps the reason for that is that the human voice is the most perfect instrument. “That’s because it’s the only instrument not man made,” Jessop said. “It’s made by God.”