Brandon Stewart’s Top 5 Album Favorites

A Few of Our Favorite Things!

I love working with our little four-year-olds, youth, teens, and adults in MCO. It brings me so much joy to see their lives lifted by quality, spiritual music. As I regularly observe thousands of MCO participants in four states, one of the things I love to do is take quick polls in rehearsal. I ask a simple question relating to classical or sacred music, and by the raise of hands I evaluate where the group stands. Consider that this is nearly 2,500 people in the western U.S. —that’s a pretty good focus group. As I’ve performed these “quick polls” for many years now, I have noticed a general decrease in awareness and interest in classical music.

A quick look at the iTunes “Top Songs” list will reveal a musical palette of Taylor Swift, Slipknot, Maroon 5, Nicki Manaj, and Sam Smith. Not to say my family and I don’t enjoy a great Taylor Swift hit once in a while—we do! I think there is a place for different styles of music. But where are Rachmaninoff, Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Ravel, and Mendelssohn? Where are Eric Whitacre, the Dale Warland Singers, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?

It is my opinion that in our 2014 world of technology and instant gratification, many don’t possess the patience to become immersed in the glorious, celestial sounds of the “music of the masters.” If you look at any top-selling album right now, you will be hard-pressed to find a track longer than four minutes. Most classical songs are way longer than that, requiring enough time to take the listener on a spiritual and emotional journey. It might require two or three times before one “gets it,” kind of like studying Shakespeare, van Gogh, or any other master of art. In the wise words of Gordon B. Hinckley, “Enjoy music. Not the kind that rocks and rolls, but the music of the masters, the music that has lived through the centuries, the music that has lifted people. If you do not have a taste for it, listen to it thoughtfully. If you do not like it the first time, listen to it again and again” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, pp. 395–6),

One question that regularly crosses my desk is, “What are the best classical/choral albums I should be downloading for my family and me to listen to?” Well, here we go! In the coming blog posts we will include each conductor’s top 5 albums, with a description (in their own words) of their selections. Some of these albums or songs are available for free on YouTube. They can also be downloaded for a very reasonable price on iTunes, Amazon, etc. To begin, here are my top 5. Enjoy!

Brandon Stewart’s Top 5 Album Favorites

1. Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 3 — Esa-Pekka Salonen, Philharmonia Orchestra & Yefim Bronfman On iTunes
I have a passion for piano concertos. The 2nd and 3rd piano concertos of Rachmaninoff, nicknamed the “Rach 2” and “Rach 3,” are two of the most complex, emotionally and technically demanding, dramatic, and sublime concertos in the literature. Rachmaninoff had abnormally large hands which made his composing for the piano treacherous for the rest of us. I’ve experienced many a bleeding finger while practicing these beastly pieces! There is nothing in the world like hearing or performing one of these two concertos live in a great concert hall. The gorgeous “Rach 2” and “Rach 3” melodies are constantly floating around in my head. They are infectious.

2. A Cappella: Robert Shaw & Robert Shaw Festival Singers & Atlanta Symphony Chorus On iTunes
This album is, in my opinion, one of the finest displays of choral sound in recording history. I love the depth, smoothness, and blend, especially on Svete Tikhyi (track 9).

3. Bach: Toccatas — Angela Hewitt On iTunes
Whenever I clean my office, I listen to Bach. This album cleanses my mind. Bach keyboard music is a purifier. Maybe it’s because he was composing music for Church services every week, but I always feel like Bach’s music connects me with God.

4. Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone On iTunes
My favorite elegant/romantic album, particularly track 18 (“The Lady Caliph: Dinner”). Oh, if we could all live life the way Yo-Yo Ma plays his cello. This music really makes me feel something!

5. Consider the Lilies: Mormon Tabernacle Choir On iTunes
The Tabernacle Choir is filling the Stewart home on most Sunday mornings, a tradition taught to me by my mother. This particular album is, in my opinion, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s finest display of sound, emotion, phrasing, programming, and praise of God. I particularly love the passion and testimony captured in tracks 13 (“I Believe in Christ”) & 14 (“God So Loved the World”). I also carry a special place in my soul for track 11, Mack Wilberg’s original composition, “Jesu, the Very Thought Is Sweet.” It has carried me through some tough times in my life.