7 years ago

Volume 21 Issue 4 - December 2015/January 2016

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What's a vinyl renaissance? What happens when Handel's Messiah runs afoul of the rumba rhythm setting on a (gasp!) Hammond organ? What work does Marc-Andre Hamelin say he would be content to have on every recital program he plays? What are Steve Wallace's favourite fifty Christmas recordings? Why is violinist Daniel Hope celebrating Yehudi Menuhin's 100th birthday at Koerner Hall January 28? Answers to all these questions (and a whole lot more) in the Dec/Jan issue of The WholeNote.

Handel’s Messiah: It

Handel’s Messiah: It Looks Like We Have A Keeper! HOWARD DYCK Relief of the Prisoners in several Gaols, and for the Support of Mercer’s Hospital in Stephen’s-street, and of the “For Charitable Infirmary on the Inns Quay, on Monday the 12th of April, will be performed at the Musick Hall on Fishamble-street, Mr. Handel’s new Grand Oratorio call’d the MESSIAH, in which the Gentlemen of the Choirs of both Cathedrals will assist, with some Concertos on the Organ, by Mr. Handel.” Thus ran the advertisement (The Dublin Journal, 23-27 March 1742) for the first performances of what came to be the most beloved piece of music in England and, eventually, Canada. Rehearsals, each of them reviewed in the papers, attracted overflow crowds, and the opening performance was even pushed back a day to allow an extra public rehearsal. In order to seat as many listeners as possible, the event organizers requested that the ladies dispense with their hooped skirts and the gentlemen were enjoined to leave their swords at home. From the first, audiences and critics were charmed: “On Tuesday last (13 April) Mr. Handel’s Sacred Grand Oratorio, The Messiah, was performed at the New Musick-Hall in Fishamble Street, the best Judges allowed it to be the most finished piece of Musick. Words are wanting to express the exquisite Delight it afforded to the admiring, crowded Audience. The Sublime, the Grand, and the Tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestick and moving Words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished Heart and Ear.” In the intervening 273 years, little has changed: Messiah continues to work its charms on thousands of music lovers, in Canada and in many countries around the world. Although Handel’s Dublin performing forces were exceedingly modest in size, it wasn’t long until enormous choirs and orchestras took on this remarkable work. Of its evolution into a lumbering warhorse, the most perspicacious critic was surely George Bernard Shaw. In a 1913 magazine article he argued his case: “Handel is not a mere composer in England: he is an institution. What is more, he is a sacred institution. When his Messiah is performed, the audience stands up, as if in church, while the Hallelujah chorus is being sung…Every three years there is a Handel Festival, at which his oratorios are performed by four thousand executants from all the choirs in England. The effect is horrible; and everybody declares it sublime.” Happily, those days of unwarranted excess are largely behind us. Nowadays, especially during the month of December – strange thing, that, given that Handel intended Messiah to be performed during the Easter season – it is possible to hear a great number of performances, some with very economical forces, others with large choirs and orchestras, albeit mostly displaying the transparency and agility we have come to expect. This year, once again, WholeNote readers will have ample opportunity to hear Handel’s iconic masterpiece. A quick perusal of GTA and southwestern Ontario listings yielded about 30 different productions, many of them offering multiple performances. In Toronto, you can hear historically informed performances by Tafelmusik; Against the Grain’s staged version has been generating a lot of attention recently; and the venerable Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Toronto Symphony Orchestra under Sir Andrew Davis will do a series of performances at Roy Thomson Hall. Indeed, the TMC/TSO reading will be recorded for commercial release by Chandos. Incidentally, the last time TMC/ TSO recorded it was at Kitchener’s Centre in the Square back in 1986. During one particularly fraught session, soprano Kathleen Battle stormed out of the hall, taking refuge in her hotel room. It took all of Andrew’s charm and seductive wiles to persuade the diva to return and complete the session. If, during this year’s performances, you see the maestro crossing his fingers, you’ll know why! My own experience of conducting Messiah goes back half a century. Before that, aged 10 or 11, I first heard it performed live in a small town in Manitoba and I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. Mind you, I was quite familiar with the music even then. The annual live CBC broadcast from Massey Hall with Sir Ernest MacMillan conducting was de rigueur listening in our farmhouse. And most years, our local church choir would attempt the Hallelujah Chorus. The best part was waiting to see which overwrought tenor or bass would come in early during the big general pause close to the end! We were rarely disappointed. Messiah holds great personal significance for me. My very first date with the beautiful young woman who would later become my wife was a performance of Messiah. We were both ushers at the Civic Auditorium in Winnipeg, and during the performance we sat on the steps in the balcony. Lois Marshall was the soprano soloist. Over the years I’ve conducted about 120 performances, most of them in Canada, but also a few in Europe and one memorable one in China, more about which later. There are conductors who dread the notion of directing yet another Messiah, but I am not among them. For me, each new performance of this glorious music is an eagerly anticipated event, an opportunity to discover another layer of meaning in this inexhaustible work. Things go wrong from time to time in Messiah performances. Somebody faints or is sick on stage, soloists show up late or not at all (yep, that’s happened to me). One soloist inadvertently locked himself into a church washroom, delaying the start of the performance by a few minutes until we could extricate him. An image that will forever remain in my memory is of three soloists and me struggling to do up the fly of our tenor who somehow managed to get his zipper stuck. The expectant audience was treated to some spontaneous offstage hilarity as we dealt with this little existential crisis. And then there was the Hammond organ incident. It was one of my first Messiah performances. We were in a small rural Manitoba church, said sanctuary having been adorned with a Hammond electric organ (remember those?). Well, we got through Part One without incident. Then, in Part Two, where things start to get really serious, there was a short circuit in the accursed instrument, and the rhumba rhythm kicked in. It was surely the first time such a decidedly secular element had been heard in that place of worship. My organist’s frantic Messiah in the GTA ●●Dec 04 8:00: Elmer Iseler Singers. Handel’s Messiah. Lydia Adams, conductor. Metropolitan United Church (Toronto). ●●Dec 04 8:00: Nathaniel Dett Chorale. An Indigo Christmas…Soulful Messiah. R&B rendition of Handel’s Messiah. Ballet Creole. Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre. Also Dec 5(8:00),6(3:00). ●●Dec 05 7:30: York Chamber Ensemble. Handel’s Messiah and Christmas Favourites. Trinity Festival Chorus. Trinity Anglican Church (Aurora). ●●Dec 06 7:00: Hart House. Hart House Chamber Strings. Handel: Sinfonia from Messiah and works by Dvořák, Elgar, Lauridsen and Bach. Hart House, Great Hall. ●●Dec 06 7:30: Toronto Beach Chorale. G.F. Handel: Messiah in the Beach. Kingston Road United Church. ●●Dec 07 7:30: University of St. Michael’s College. A Baroque Concert for Advent. Handel: Foundling Hospital Anthem; also works by Geminiani. With Musicians in Ordinary. St. Basil’s Church, University of St. Michael’s College. ●●Dec 07 8:00: Soundstreams. Ear Candy: Electric Messiah. Drake Hotel. Also Dec 8. ●●Dec 12 4:00: Church of St. Mary Magdalene. Children’s Messiah. Pax Christi Chorale. Church of St. Mary Magdalene (Toronto). ●●Dec 12 7:30: Village Voices. Messiah. Joan Andrews, conductor. Markham Missionary Church. ●●Dec 12 7:30: Voices Chamber Choir. Messiah. Handel. Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. ●●Dec 15 8:00: Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Messiah. Handel (orchestration, Andrew Davis). Andrew Davis, conductor. Roy Thomson. Hall Also Dec 16,18,19(8:00),20(3:00). ●●Dec 16 7:30: Brott Music Festival. Handel’s Messiah. Boris Brott, conductor. Burlington Performing Arts Centre. ●●Dec 16 7:30: Tafelmusik. Handel Messiah. Ivars Taurins, director. Koerner Hall. Also Dec 17-19. Also Dec 20(Sing-along) ●●Dec 16 8:00: MasseyHall/Against the Grain Theatre. AtG’s Messiah. Handel. Topher Mokrzewski, conductor. Harbourfront Centre. Also Dec 17,18(8:00),19(2:00). ●●Dec 17 8:00: Living Arts Centre. Ballet Creole: Soulful Messiah. ●●Dec 18 7:30: Humber Valley United Church. The Magic of Christmas. M. Wilberg: musical 8 | December 1 2015 - February 7, 2016

GRYPHON TRIO PHOTO COURTESY OF HOWARD DYCK Thursday December 10 at 8 pm MARC-ANDRÉ HAMELIN ministrations were to no avail. The Spanish dance continued. “He was despised” with rhumba accompaniment is, shall we say, unique! By this time the audience was rolling on the floor. Finally, we had to shut the instrument down and continue with the piano which, mercifully, was to hand. I concluded this was divine wrath visited upon a parish that would sully its place of worship with a Hammond! Only once have I had to fire a soloist the day before the concert, an alto who just wasn’t up to Handel’s demands. Enter Catherine Robbin at the very last minute, visibly pregnant with her first child. It was the first of many times we worked together, and of course she sang like an angel. There was one Messiah where Ben Heppner and Daniel Taylor graced the same stage. Their duet “O death, where is thy sting?” is the only time Canada’s leading Heldentenor and countertenor have ever sung together. It was pure gold! In April 2014 I conducted a Messiah performance in Waterloo with the Nota Bene Baroque Players & Singers. It was a deeply personal moment for my tenor soloist, Michael Schade. His father, already quite ill and confined to a wheelchair, was able to attend. Hans Schade passed away a month or so later. And shortly after that, Michael’s mother, Liesl, died quite unexpectedly. That Messiah was the last time they heard their illustrious son. But of all my Messiah experiences, there is one that stands out from all the rest. In 1999 I was invited to participate in an international arts festival in Kunming, China. (In 2012 and 2013 I would return to that arrangements; Handel: Messiah (excerpts). ●●Dec 19 7:30: Musikay. Messiah. St. John’s United Church, Oakville. ●●Dec 19 8:00: Missisauga Symphony Orchestra. Highlights from Messiah. Jennifer Tung, choral director. Living Arts Centre, Hammerson Hall. ●●Dec 20 2:00: Tafelmusik. Sing-along Messiah. Ivars Taurins, director. Massey Hall. ●●Dec 20 3:00: St. Anne’s Anglican Church. Christmas Cantate. Rutter: Magnificat (excerpts); Handel: Messiah (excerpts); Christmas carols arr. by Sir David Willcocks, Derek Holman, Paul Halley and John Rutter. Messiah beyond the GTA ●●Dec 04 2:30: Queen’s University School of Music. Messiah Sing-along. Grand Lobby, Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, Kingston. ●●Dec 05 7:30: Orchestra Kingston. Sing- Along Messiah. Handel. Guest soloists and audience sing-along. Salvation Army Citadel, 816 Centennial Dr., Kingston. 613-634- 9312. -. Scores available at the door. Rehearsal for ticket holders: Dec 1 (5:30). ●●Dec 12 7:30: Dufferin Concert Singers/New Tecumseth Singers. G.F. Handel’s Messiah. Westminster United Church, Miao Villagers sing Messiah, 2012 Messiah continues on page 84 Orangeville. Also Dec 13 (Alliston). ●●Dec 12 7:30: Grand Philharmonic Choir. Handel: Messiah. Mark Vuorinen, conductor. Centre in the Square, Kitchener. ●●Dec 13 3:00: Bach Elgar Choir of Hamilton. Bach Elgar Sing-Along Messiah. Melrose United Church, Hamilton. Scores available to borrow or buy. Rehearsal on Dec 8(7:15) with ticket. ●●Dec 13 3:00: Dufferin Concert Singers/ New Tecumseth Singers. G.F. Handel’s Messiah. Banting Memorial High School, Alliston. Also Dec 12 (Orangeville). ●●Dec 13 3:00: Elora Festival Singers. Messiah. St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Fergus. ●●Dec 13 3:00: Peterborough Singers. Handel’s Messiah. George Street United Church, Peterborough. Also Dec 14(7:30). ●●Dec 14 7:30: Brott Music Festival. Handel’s Messiah. Boris Brott, conductor. St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, Hamilton. ●●Dec 19 7:30: Guelph Chamber Choir. Handel’s Messiah. Gerald Neufeld, conductor. River Run Centre, Guelph. ●●Dec 20 3:00: Grand River Chorus. Handel’s Messiah. St. Pius Roman Catholic Church, Brantford. Tuesday January 5 at 8 pm ANDRIANA CHUCHMAN Soprano Thursday January 21 at 8 pm at JACK Quartet Thursday January 14 at 8 pm Co-produced with New Music Concerts Canadian Heritage Patrimoine canadien 416-366-7723 1-800-708-6754 order online at December 1 2015 - February 7, 2016 | 9

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