Composer/performer Kurt Bestor celebrates 25 years of Christmas shows this year.
"It's a big anniversary," he said. "I haven't even gotten that far in my marriage yet. What is shocking is when you say instead that it has been a quarter of a century. Now, I don't mind that term -- so long as I can look in the mirror and not see that quarter of a century looking back.
"But I feel really lucky that in this age of fast food and one-hit music wonders that I have actually been able to do something where my name has lasted."
"Plus, I think, officially at this point, I do not have to find another job."
Bestor, who lives in Salt Lake City, performs four shows in the coming days at Abravanel Hall, as well as his annual Ogden performance to benefit the Jaynie Nye Memorial Foundation at McKay-Dee Hospital, which works in the fight against cancer, especially childhood cancers.
Bestor said the hospital and its works are close to his heart, especially since both of his daughters, Erika and Kristen, have spina bifida.
"I don't charge for that concert, except for the orchestra bill, because it is important to me," he said. "I am not sure even how many years I've done that one, maybe 15 years, but maybe more. It has become its own tradition."
Bestor said he enjoys the Ogden audience.
"I can joke around a little bit with the Ogden crowd. They are a fun bunch because they seem to be able to let their hair down a little." He laughed. "I mean, in Salt Lake, they've just started drinking caffeine, and that is causing a bit of controversy! But the Ogden crowd has this really great esprit de corps, and we just get along great when I am there. I really love it."
For the silver anniversary, Bestor wanted to have a strong Utah theme.
He did so by inviting guest artists who have roots of one sort or another in Utah. Usually for his holiday shows, he'll have one special guest, but he wanted to amp things up for this 25th year. So he has three guests stars in Ogden, and two at the Salt Lake shows.
In Ogden, singer Anna Wilson and her husband, hit songwriter Monty Powell, Nashville talents now based in the Ogden Valley, will join in, as will Alex Sharpe, of the group Celtic Women. Sharpe will also perform in Salt Lake City, along with world-renowned Utah violinist Jenny Oaks Baker.
Bestor has just finished working with Baker on a new Christmas CD, "The Well: Carols of Christmas Past." Sharpe also joined them on a track, to Bestor's great pleasure.
"Jenny Oaks Baker has had an amazing career," he said. "We have been hand-in-hand on quite a few projects lately. Since we had just produced a Christmas album together, I was like, 'Wow, things could not line up any better.'ââââ"
When he got involved with Baker's Christmas record, Bestor thought it might be fun to give the songs the atmosphere of European Christmases past.
"We took it back in time to Old England and Ireland and Spain. I am even using old instruments, lutes and recorders. And we use orchestral instruments as well, but I do it in a way to make it like you stepped back in time. So, once I decided to do that, I wanted to get an Irish element going, and I thought of Celtic Women.
"Now, many might know of them, but might not know that one of the ladies, Alex, has a Utah connection. She is from Ireland, but she happens to be (a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and has a real connection to this area, like most LDS do."
Sharpe joins Baker and Bestor on the CD for a Gaelic version of "Silent Night."
"I went for a real Old World feel, and it just worked out so well. Jenny, unfortunately, can't join us for the Ogden shows, but it'll be great to have Alex also performing with me in Ogden. And lest you think the Ogden show is any less special, I tell you, I have two amazing talents in Anna and Monty. They performed with me last year at my benefit for McKay-Dee, and the audience loved them so much they asked us to bring them back."
Best of Bestor
There will be a bit of looking back at this anniversary show, said Bestor.
"I will do a little retrospective," he said. "I will start with the hits, from all the albums over the last 25 years. I think, when people go to concerts, they want to hear the song they love. Like, when you go to see James Taylor, you go to hear 'Fire and Rain.' So I have to perform those songs people know. Then, I always do about 35 percent new things, too."
Besides drawing from the new Baker album for new music, Bestor always writes a new carol for the audience to sing along with him.
"I give them sheet music to join in," he said. "I was thinking of the Great American Songbook, because I wanted this to feel like home. So I went for 'The Christmas Song' feel, chestnuts roasting, that flavor. I just finished orchestrating it, and I have a little Nelson Riddle-ish flavor to it. I'm excited to present it."
The holiday spirit
Bestor was on his way to make his grandmother's special Christmas cookies on a TV chat show when he called for this interview.
"Well, they are very tasty, indeed, and I really don't look too bad in an apron. But I am shamelessly using this as a ploy to get people to come to my show," Bestor confessed.
He readily admits that life gets a little nuts for him during the holidays. And this year, besides his enormous concert productions, he is also finishing up a piece written expressly for Brigham Young University's world champion team in ballroom dance.
"And this year, I've even made my life a little crazier in a way, because I have a couple different shows to do, rather than just one in two different places -- but it will make for amazing shows."
So with all this going on, does the pressure ever get to Bestor?
"You know, sometimes it get a bit hard," he said. "Sometimes I don't feel like being Kurt Bestor, being on, performing all the time, this time of year. But I can't imagine not doing this, that's for sure. Who knows, come Dec. 26th, maybe I'll do something crazy, like shave my head, to celebrate."