Handel’s “Messiah” has been a popular success since it was first performed in Dublin in 1742. And, despite its not being a solely Christmas work, it has been a holiday tradition as long as anyone can remember. Not only do audiences flock to performances annually, amateur singers clamor to sing its choruses year after year.
“They come out because it’s tradition — they’ve done it every year for the last 68 years,” explains Alastair Stout, minister of music at Grace Congregational Church in Rutland. “I think they come out because they’re excited about the stories. For me, it’s the wonderful, wonderful music, and the fantastically dramatic story that it represents.”
And that applies to “Messiah” audiences as well.
“It’s reassuring, particularly now,” adds Lisa Jablow, assistant conductor of the Vermont Philharmonic. “The one thing that I am ever-grateful to these difficult times for is allowing me to realize just how important music is — to me and to the world.
“Everybody sees something different in the work,” Jablow continued. “For some people it’s the liturgy, for other people, it’s just the music, or something in between, but it’s important to people.”
Jablow will conduct the Vermont Philharmonic and Chorus in “Messiah” (Part I and “Hallelujah Chorus”) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30, at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Montpelier, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2, at the Barre Opera House. Vocal soloists are soprano Sarah Cullins, mezzo-soprano Wendy Hoffman, tenor Adam Hall and bass Erik Kroncke.
Stout will conduct the Rutland Area Chorus and Orchestra in “Messiah” (Part I and “Hallelujah Chorus”) and J.S. Bach’s Cantata BWV 62, “Non komm, der Helden Heiland (Now come, Savior of the Heavens),” at 3:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2, at Grace Church. Vocal soloists are soprano Allison Steinmetz, alto Amy Frostman, tenor Cameron Steinmetz and bass Zebulun McLellan.
George Frederick Handel (1685-1759) wrote the English-language oratorio “Messiah” in 1741, and it has become perhaps the most popular piece of music ever written. The text was created by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible and the version of the Psalms from the Common Book of Prayers. Part I includes the prophecy and the birth of Jesus; Part II depicts the Passion, the execution of Christ, ending with the “Hallelujah Chorus;” and Part III celebrates the Resurrection and Christ’s glorification in heaven.
“I think I did see all Heaven before me and the great God himself,” Handel said upon composing “Messiah.”
Of writing the “Hallelujah Chorus,” he said, “Whether I was in my body or out of my body as I wrote it I know not. God knows.”
Celebrating its 60th anniversary, the Vermont Philharmonic, the state’s oldest community orchestra, has chosen all Vermont soloists for its “Messiah” performances, including some of the top solo singers in the state.
“I’m excited, and they all jumped on board very easily — which was great,” Jablow said.
Otherwise, changes from previous seasons are incremental. For the first time in years, the brilliant bass aria, “The trumpet shall sound,” will be included.
“We have Jim Duncan on first trumpet, who’s eager to play it,” Jablow said. “(Bass) Eric Kroncke is also very eager to do it.”
And the orchestra is a bit bigger this year.
“We added a third viola last year, which was great, and this year we added a cello too,” Jablow said. “And we’re bringing in a different harpsichord this year because Lynette Combs has not been happy with the one the Philharmonic owns. You can’t hear it.”
And, due to Jablow’s New York obligations, Arthur Zorn has assisted in the preparation of the volunteer chorus.
“They’ve been loving working with him,” Jablow said. “All the reports are that they’re doing very, very well. All of the signs are very, very good.”