Lea Salonga and Sir David Suchet Celebrate Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir

Lea Salonga and Sir David Suchet Celebrate Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir December 8, 2023

A woman and man in festive evening dress stand in front of a choir and orchestra.
Image: L-R: Lea Salonga and Sir David Suchet, backed by the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra. PHOTO CREDIT ©2023 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

This year, we’re getting a supersized version of the annual Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir concert — and some special elements that hit home.

What Is the Annual Tabernacle Choir Concert?

Taped in Dec. 2022 at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Season of Light features the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra, Bells at Temple Square, and Gabriel Trumpet Ensemble — part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Joining them are Disney and Broadway star Lea Salonga (Mulan, Miss Saigon), a Filipino-born Catholic, and actor Sir David Suchet (Agatha Christie’s Poirot), a convert to the Anglican Church.

In its 20th televised year, the concert — presented by Boston PBS station GBH — premieres on PBS on Tuesday, Dec. 12 at 8 p.m. ET/PT (check local listings), then airs on LDS Church-owned cablenet BYUtv on Sunday, Dec. 17, at 8 p.m. ET.

No Edits for PBS This Year

Normally, the BYUtv audience would get the full concert, while the PBS audience would get an edited, one-hour version.

Not so this year, says Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra musical director Mack Wilberg:

As we worked on the edit of this show, we just said, there is not one moment of this that can be cut. And so we made a plea that if we could show the full hour and a half of the show, it would be really great. We want to thank PBS because they actually said we are fine with you showing the entire show.

The show features new hosts each year and often contains songs and themes particular to those hosts.

Telling the Story of a Man Who Saved Children During World War II

For British-born Suchet, there’s the story of British stockbroker and humanitarian Sir Nicholas Winton MBE. Born to German-Jewish parents in London, Winton assisted in the rescue of 669 children, most of the Jewish, from Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II.

This was one of the reasons Suchet — who has Jewish heritage — said yes. He recalls:

My agent rang and gave me the invitation, and as soon as I knew that I would be narrating about what Sir Nicholas Winton did just before the war, sailing children from Nazis in Czechoslovakia, I immediately said yes, because he’s so well known here in [the U.K.]

It was a chance to spread his word even many, many years after his death … the most extraordinary one man who’s changed and turned around so many lives.

Suchet also noted the timeliness of telling Sir Winton’s story:

We are going through unprecedented times at the moment and at the time, just before World War II, there was this man witnessing young children that were going to their certain death.

It’s an extraordinary thing that we are reminded today of yesterday, and how history unfortunately repeats itself.

When I was in the Tabernacle Square and doing the story of Sir Nicholas Winton, little did I know that it would be airing at a time of this catastrophic situation in the Middle East and how pertinent it is.

But as we have been saying, there is also in the human an area of love and kindness, which will shine through in the end, and our show gives hope of that. And, please God, it comes and comes very soon.

Here’s some background on Winton:

Singing for Peace in Tagalog

Salonga hails from the Philippines, where, as she says, “the Christmas season actually starts in September.”

She performs a World War II-era song, in the native Tagalog language, called “Payapang Daigdig.” She explains:

The song was written in the aftermath of World War II by national artist Felipe de Leon. And basically, if I remember right, the composer actually climbed up and saw the wreckage of the war, but seeing how strangely peaceful things were, and [the song title] really just translates to peaceful world.

It is a hope that even, in the aftermath of violence and of destruction, that there is a peace that comes afterwards.

Given a lot of what has happened in so many years with conflicts and wars and violence in so many different parts of the world, even within the United States, it’s a hope that after all of that there is a quiet and there is a peace that follows.

I don’t think any of us could have anticipated how important a message like that would be given when this is going to be released.

In the performance, “Payapang Daigdig” is paired with the beloved carol “Silent Night.” Says Salonga:

Especially juxtaposing “Silent Night,” was that even, though it was sung in a language, only understood obviously by other Filipinos or anybody that can speak Tagalog, that because of the music and how it was just constructed and how it was written, plus that wonderful arrangement, it was as if the music itself just transcended whatever language barriers there were.

I’d like to think that all of our efforts put together was able to get that to the audience that was watching, that it wasn’t about the language, that it was just about the intention and about the music. And hopefully that translated more than enough.

Listen to it here:

And here’s a short preview of the concert itself:

A Christmas Special That’s Actually About the Reason for the Season

Two years ago, I got to go see the concert live, with Neal McDonough and Megan Hilty. It was an amazing experience, especially the beauty of the concert staging and the professionalism of the complex performance in Temple Square’s massive Conference Center auditorium.

(Click here for the story, which also includes a visit to the Jerusalem set used by The Chosen and a look at Salt Lake City’s gorgeous Catholic Cathedral of the Madeleine.)

Although the theological differences that exist between the Catholic Church and the LDS Church are significant and irreconcilable, this particular concert is a true Christmas gift to the world and a welcome change from the holiday being all about Santa Claus, rom-coms and shopping.

Again, the 90-minute Season of Light: Christmas with The Tabernacle Choir premieres on Tuesday, Dec. 12 at 8 p.m. ET (check local listings) on PBS, PBS.org and the PBS App. BYUtv airs the special on Sunday, Dec. 17 at 8 p.m. ET, on BYUtv, BYUtv.org and the BYUtv app.

Image: L-R: Lea Salonga and Sir David Suchet, backed by the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra. PHOTO CREDIT ©2023 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

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About Kate O'Hare
Based in Los Angeles, Kate O'Hare is a veteran entertainment journalist, Social Media Content Manager for Family Theater Productions and a rookie screenwriter. You can read more about the author here.
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