For the past five years, Tacoma Symphony Orchestra (TSO) has kept the tradition of presenting George Frideric Handel's famous oratorio "Messiah" during the holidays and this year will be no different, as the orchestra and Tacoma will be bringing this performance to the community at the site of St. Charles Borromeo Church.
According to TSO Executive Director Andrew C. Buelow, this production is the epitome of the holidays for his organization.
"This was something that Dr. Geoffrey Boers the conductor led the charge on. It's an extremely popular, beloved work for both chorus and the orchestra. Kind of traditional for Christmas, though the original performance took place at Easter, not Christmas, but nowadays it's a Christmas piece. There are no other performances of 'Messiah' anywhere in our vicinity."
"Messiah" is a part of holiday tradition not just in the United States, but also around the world. It is divided into three sections. The first is concerned with the prophesy of the coming Messiah and then with Christ's Nativity. Part II deals with Christ's suffering and death. The concluding section offers an affirmation of Christian faith and glimpses of Revelation. The famous "Hallelujah" chorus brings Part II to a close with triumphant joy. Part III begins with the aria "I know that my Redeemer Liveth."
"That (hallelujah) custom dates back to King George II in 1743. He stood to express admiration for the theme. A couple of years after the premiere, when the King stood everyone had to stand. It's appropriate for the holidays because it's a very hopeful message in the piece, all words are based in biblical passages. It starts out with mostly the Old Testament, the coming of the messiah, and moves on into the New Testament later on in the piece," Buelow stated.
In an effort to keep this show as authentic as possible, during "Messiah" the full TSO normally heard in the Pantages will not be performing, but rather what is called a "baroque orchestra" will be in place, as symphony orchestras didn't exist when "Messiah" was written. TSO's "Messiah" features four soloists - Sarah B. Markovits, soprano; Melissa Plagemann, mezzo; Stephen Rumph, tenor; and Charles Robert Stephens, baritone. Each is featured throughout, kind of as alternates, and one of those voices will be featured as soloist.
"Messiah" is a number of very short pieces or movements strung together, each piece two to three minutes in length and are based on one of the biblical texts that are included and then will feature tenor, bass soprano and on a couple of occasions will feature several or all of soloists.
"We tend to alternate with chorus, the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra chorus is composed of 60 voices. There are one or two movements that just feature the symphony alone with no voices. (It's) pretty lively. People think of choral music as heavy, but this isn't; it's sort of the jazz of the 18th century. It really just moves along, light spirited and joyous," Buelow affirmed.
"I think that's really why people come to it year after year. It's really uplifting. I think people really like to carve a few hours out of life where they sit and listen to something that has stood the test of time and can speak to us in a message of hope. At this point in life, we all need hope. I think that's what this piece gives people."
Though "Messiah" is suitable for all ages and the whole family, it is a longer piece and thus might not be the best situation for children of all ages.
"I've seen all ages coming, see people bringing families, but it is long - the length of a full-length movie and then some, so it's not for every little kid. But the nice thing about it is that it has a lot of pauses, a number of short pieces, so I'll see mothers and fathers take kids out to get air and go to the restroom. It's kind of conducive that way," Buelow said.
Tacoma Symphony Orchestra's presentation of Handel's "Messiah" will be taking place Friday, Dec. 18 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Charles Borromeo Church, located at 7112 12th St. Tickets: $25 and parking is free in the church parking lot.
For more information, call the Broadway Center box office at (253) 591-5894 or visit the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra website at www.tacomasymphony.org.