Tag Archives: Handel

Handel’s Messiah for Holy Week at the Knox Presbyterian Church

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The Senior Choir of the Knox Presbytarian Church in Toronto presented an impressive performance of The Messiah before Christmas last year under the direction of Roger Bergs. They sang Part I of the oratorio and ended the concert with Life up your heads, O ye gates (#33) and the Hallelujah chorus (#44).

As we entered into Holy Week, my husband and I were among the audience for the Passion part of The Messiah. The church combined the concert with a worship service on Palm Sunday, thus signally in the most important week in the Christian calendar for Christians all around the world.

Last year, we arrived at the church in darkness. This time, I was better able to take a picture of the church while it is still light outside.

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We found seats nearer the front and had better acoustics and closer view of the performers. The solo vocalists selected from among the ranks of the choir members were the same as those from last Christmas, and there were only had a few changes for the guest instrumentalists. They all put forward a well co-ordinated performance. Music director Roger Bergs was on crutches, but this did not deter him from energetically moving to the lectern to introduce the music and repeatedly standing up to conduct and sitting down to play the harpsichord.

The program began with the chorus Behold the Lamb of God (Part II, #22) and ended with the Worthy is the Lamb chorus in Part III. There were read commentaries from Understanding Handel’s Messiah by Mariano Di Gangi, a former minister of the church. They excerpts enhanced the spirituality of the evening.

Chelsea Säuer-Peckham delivered a superb performance of He was despised and rejected of men (#23) with a gentle sorrow about the pains and suffering Jesus endured, but not without allowing an inner strength to shine through. I definitely preferred this interpretation to one performance I remembered in which the solo vocalist pronounced  “despised” and “rejected” with such emphasis that it was excruciating painful (pun intended) to listen to. Säuer-Peckhem’s duet with Kenzi Yango, tenor, was also beautiful. Tenor Jason Lamont gave a credible and commanding performance in the recitative He that dwelleth in heaven (#42) and aria Thou shalt break them with a rod (#43). Soprano Anna Casurella had excellent control of her range and definitely would have given a more convincing performance given better enunciation of the words. It was regrettably a more disappointing evening for baritone Patrick Twaddle in Part II, but fortunately he regained his composure in Part III.

It was a solemn evening highlighted by the singing of Jesus’s suffering and death, but we also left the church with feelings of comfort and hope from the belief in the significance of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection.

A Christmas Messiah at Knox Presbyterian Church

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The very fact that a church choir of about 30 vocalists can showcase a concert to the public of Handel’s Messiah is a testament of the calibre of its singers and their choir director. I am speaking of the Senior Choir of Knox Presbyterian Church in downtown Toronto. After I had purchased tickets for The Messiah in Burlington with the Brott Music Festival 2012, my daughter invited me and my husband to the Messiah performed at the Knox Presbyterian Church in Toronto. I cannot be more thrilled with my second live performance of this beautiful oratorio composition this Christmas season.

The Knox Presbyterian Church was built in early 1900 and the Church officially moved to this site in 1909. The architecture of the building encompasses the simplicity yet decorative splendour of the Gothic Revival and Romanesque Revival style.

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I looked around: the beautiful vaulted ceiling, the stained glass windows, the beautiful Casavant organ and the Christmas wreathes. I felt ready to enjoy The Messiah.

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The evening began with a short worship with prayers and hymns, which we sang to the accompaniment of the the orchestra. The Handbell Ensemble of the church gave a performance of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.The bells came in different sizes and the players sometimes switched bells to ring out the right notes with impressive agility.

The programme included reading of commentaries in between the recitatives and arias of the Messiah. The texts were based on the book entitled Understanding Handel’s Messiah by Dr. Kariano DiGangi, a former minister of the Church. I had not come across the book before; I liked the comforting and reassuring words. The choir delivered beautifully. I want to single out the duet for Alto (Chelsea Sauer) and Soprano (Anna Casurella) in He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd. The vocalists sang with professional calibre and their voices were so compatible with each other that their parts coalesce into one duet. Choir Director Roger Bergs conducted from the harpsichord. This certainly was a feat, especially the instrumentalists were guests invited to form the orchestra, and it was understandable that on the odd occasion the coherence of the choir impressed more than the orchestra.

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Only half of the Messiah was presented, and the concert ended with the chorus Life Up Your Heads, O Ye Gates and the Hallelujah Chorus. It was an evening of a musical as well as spiritual journey. After a short prayer and the hymn The First Noel, we left the church and walked into the winter night, ready to welcome Christmas.

It was also announced that the Easter portion of the Messiah would be performed next Spring. I will mark the date on my calendar.

KnoxDay     Knox Presbyterian Church, 630 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, Ontario.

The Messiah with the Brott Music Festival 2012

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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.

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The Burlington Performing Arts Centre, 440 Locust Street, Burlington, Ontarrio.    www.burlingtonpac.ca

References       http://www.lancette-arts-journal.ca/feature26.htm