Symphony Chorus brings ‘Messiah’ to the masses
Who hasn’t heard that choral number? Lots of people, as it turns out, according to the longtime director of the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans.
Steven Edwards, who has been leading the chorus since 1990, hopes to help remedy that at the Baroque Christmas concert being presented by his choral group and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.
Edwards has prepared the Symphony Chorus to sing Part 1 of Georg Friedrich Handel’s “The Messiah,” which headlines the bill on Thursday, Dec. 13, in New Orleans and Friday, Dec. 14, in Mandeville.
With its familiar “Hallelujah!” chorus, backdrop of dozens of TV commercials, “The Messiah” is the most widely recognized choral piece in the English language repertoire.
On the same bill are Overture No. 1 in B-flat by Francesco Maria Veracini and Cantata No. IV from the Christmas Oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach.
“I get such a thrill every time the audience stands up for the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus,” Edwards said. “I never get tired of doing it.
“There are always people in the audience who have never heard it before and there are people who come back because they know what a great piece it is. It is always a delight to share it with the audience.”
And, since he is not conducting the concert, Edwards will be sharing his own tenor voice with the rest of the chorus, something he has done on a number of occasions in the past.
“The first few times I prepared the chorus but didn’t conduct, I used to sit around backstage and I realized I had absolutely nothing to do back there. So I decided to join in and sing along,” he said.
Guest conductor is Glenn Langdon. Soloists include Elizabeth Keusch (soprano), Quinn Patrick (mezzo-soprano), Laurence Wiliford (tenor) and Michael Dean (bass).
“Although the Veracini overture is not directly related to Christmas, it’s a wonderfully exuberant piece, and I thought it would fit very well in the program,” Langdon said. “It presents a nice balance between the two vocal works and would be within the Baroque confines of this concert. It will put a smile on everyone’s face.”
The Fourth Cantata of the six-part Bach Christmas Oratorio, Langdon said, “has some of the most beautiful music in the work. Parts of Cantata No. 4 were lifted from one of Bach’s earlier secular pieces. Bach was not above recycling a lot of his work.”
“Parody music,” as it is called, is created when the composer takes a pre-existing piece of music and inserts new text to it, Langdon explained.
“It works very well, and that’s one of the nice aspects of this particular cantata. It’s a lovely piece of music, set to biblical text,” he said.
The Christmas Oratorio is notable for its “echo aria” composed for oboe and soprano, Langdon said.
“It is a dialogue of reflection of what the singer is thinking,” Langdon said. “As the singer is asking questions about the biblical text, her conscience echoes with either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no,’ and so we use another singer from the chorus to be the echo.”
He added: “When the soprano asks a question and answers with a ‘ja,’” or yes, in German, “her conscience answers with a ‘ja.’”
The Christmas Oratorio Cantata No. 4 will be sung in German by the full chorus, followed by a 15-minute intermission. “The Messiah”: Part 1 will follow the intermission.