Red Rock Rondo

Red Rock Rondo is an Emmy Award-winning ensemble consisting of six of Utah’s best-known musicians: composer Phillip Bimstein, Kate MacLeod, Hal Cannon, Charlotte Bell, Flavia Cerviño-Wood and Harold Carr, performing on piano, guitars, violins, oboe, English horn, concertina, harmonica, bass and vocals. Their music is a well-crafted synergy of popular, folk, jazz and classical, woven into a truly original New Americana style.

Red Rock Rondo’s Zion Canyon Song Cycle CD, based on Utah oral histories, was #10 on the national Folk DJ charts with the #7 song. It was deemed the “best local album on the year” by the Salt Lake Tribune’s David Burger. A TV special based on Red Rock Rondo’s music and stories, seen locally on KUED, won two regional Emmy Awards.

Now a once secret gift becomes a best-selling book and a celebration in song. A singular act of generosity 78 years ago becomes an ongoing reminder of the importance of giving today. And this story becomes a symphonic song cycle at this Salt Lake Symphony premiere of the fully orchestrated Secret Gift.

The book on which Red Rock Rondo’s new songs are based, A Secret Gift (by former Washington Post and Time magazine journalist Ted Gup), is an inspiring account of America at its worst and Americans at their best. It is woven from the stories of Depression-era families who were helped by gifts from the author’s grandfather, an immigrant businessman whose act of generosity was a secret even to his family until his grandson discovered a cache of letters in a trunk, launching him on a journey to reconnect with those families and tell their stories in his book. The book was released in late 2010 and became a national bestseller, winning reviews and feature stories in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, NPR and CBS Sunday Morning (on which Red Rock Rondo also performed).

Immediately upon reading Ted Gup’s 2008 Op-Ed in The New York Times, “Hard Times, A Helping Hand,” composer Phillip Bimstein was inspired to write a song cycle based on the heart-rending letters in the book. For example, “Dear Sir” is based on the letter from Helen Palm, a 14-year-old girl who lacked clothing and food in 1933, a low point of the Great Depression, and hoped to receive some funds for her family to have a Christmas dinner. “Christmas in Canton” tells the moving story of how the cash gifts were given anonymously to a wide range of people in great need.