I like Handel’s Messiah. Not a Christmas will go by without my listening to the Messiah at home (and I listen to it at other times of the year too) or at a concert venue. My Messiah treat this year was with Boris Brott’s National Academy Orchestra and the Arcady Singers.
It was held at the Burlington Performing Art Centre (BPAC), which had just turned one year old. This concert also gave me an opportunity to experience the concert hall for the first time.
Brott’s National Acdemy Orchestra always maintains an excellent standard when they perform. With the Messiah, Brott put together an orchestra of 17 instrumentalists—mainly strings, with a harpsichord and organ, percussion and a couple of trumpets—to complement the Arcady Singers with its 30 or so vocalists. This moderate force was ideal for the concert hall which sat about 700 people, and gave an awakening contrast to the mega forces of orchestras and choirs of almost 200 strength which seemed to be the selling point of many Messiah performances these days. In fact, when Handel wrote the Messiah, it was intended to be played and sung by a moderate size orchestra and choir. The piece was also performed as such in the past.
I can fully appreciate the beauty of the performance sitting in the middle of the BPAC hall. The soloists were not just performing; they were communicating to the audience, who also became involved, as opposed to watching from an aloof corner of a huge concert hall. The soloists also brought along their individual styles besides their tonal range and colours. I like to think of the soloists as story-tellers in the Messiah. They are relating to the audience the story of Jesus from the prophecy of his coming, his life, to his resurrection. Janet Obermeyer (soprano) sang with well-controlled grace and credibility. She was so at ease with her recitatives and arias that she appeared to be confiding the story to the audience from her heart. Lauren Segal (mezzo soprano) gave her performance an operatic touch. There was drama in her facial expressions and voice. (It was also interesting to read in the programme notes that Ms Segal had a Masters degree in Physics.) Daivd Curry (tenor) sang his part with clarity and energy, while Jason Howard (baritone) charmed the audience with his sincerity.
In the second part of the concert, the orchestra was joined by the brasses. The solo trumpet player gave a brilliant performance. I was anticipating the high notes, and he totally delivered them! Three notes into the introduction of the Hallelujah chorus, the audience rose to their feet. The surprise of the evening was when Maestro Brott turned towards the audience and conducted them to sing along with the choir. This really made my evening. I had always thought that a sing-along Messiah would be fun, and this was indeed a great start for me.
I left the concert hall feeling content and happy. I cannot find a better word to describe the feeling after the heart-warming and joyful music of Handel. I think my experience has been enhanced by the BPAC concert hall with its excellent acoustic and comfortable seating. I already like the place when I enter the door, looking up to the very tall ceiling, glass windows, and a spacious foyer. It is designed with the interest of the environment in mind. The architects, Diamond & Schmitt, also design the Four Seasons Performing Arts Centre in Toronto, La Maison Symphonique in Montreal and the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersberg, Russia. I also want to add that the lower boxes of the concert hall are fully accessible, and patrons in wheelchairs can sit in the boxes, where the armchairs are movable.
The Burlington Performing Arts Centre, 440 Locust Street, Burlington, Ontarrio. www.burlingtonpac.ca