Messiah

Saturday, December 14, 2019 • 2:00 p.m.
Plymouth Congregational Church (1217 6th Ave)

Sunday, December 15, 2019 • 2:00 p.m.
Bastyr Chapel (14500 Juanita Drive NE)

Orchestra Seattle
Seattle Chamber Singers
William White, conductor
Linda Tsatsanis, soprano
Nerys Jones, mezzo-soprano
Brendan Tuohy, tenor
Michael Drumheller, bass-baritone

Program

George Frideric Handel (1685 –1759)
Messiah, HWV 56

About the Concert

A timeless classic and a Seattle tradition. Join OSSCS as we once again present the region’s only performances of Handel’s full and unabridged score. Our Saturday performance in Seattle is now sold out, but tickets remain available for our Sunday afternoon performance in Kenmore.

Parking Information

Concertgoers attending our Sunday afternoon Messiah performance in Kenmore will find plentiful parking available on the campus of Bastyr University.

Maestro’s Prelude

Dear listeners,

This season we mark the 50th anniversary of OSSCS, and we’re celebrating with all sorts of new initiatives: a spate of world premieres, guest artists galore, and performances at big-name venues — see you at Benaroya in May! While innovation is crucial, so is tradition — and if there’s one thing that’s a tradition at OSSCS, it’s our annual presentation of Handel’s Messiah.

Viewed one way, tradition can seem stultifying: same old, same old. But from my vantage point as an artist, it’s quite the opposite. The knowledge that we will return to Messiah every year inspires in me a tremendous sense of freedom. If I want to try some outlandish interpretative flourish, I feel free to do so — this isn’t my only shot. It might work out great, and if it doesn’t, I can jettison it next year (and try a whole new outlandish interpretive flourish!).

I think this general principle writ large is what has allowed OSSCS to do so many interesting projects over the decades. We’re firm in our foundation: the commitment of our musicians, our audiences and our donors. In fact, it’s these very stakeholders who expect us to take risks and provoke their thought, whether that be in the context of a brand
new work or one such as Messiah that we’ve performed dozens upon dozens of times.

One thing that makes performing Messiah particularly fun for me is that I get to conduct and perform at the harpsichord. This may be the closest I come all year long to participating in what you might call a “sport.” And to make it even more sporting, this year we’re reinstating a longtime OSSCS tradition of having both of our harpsichords on stage for a Baroque Battle of the Ornaments. Sitting at the keyboard opposite me is one of OSSCS’s founding members, Bob Kechley. (Remember that Benaroya concert I mentioned above? We’ll be performing one of Bob’s compositions — along with one of mine — at that event!)

No doubt many of you reading this are first-time attendees at our concerts, drawn in by this beloved holiday classic. I’d encourage you to take a gander at the back of your program jacket before you leave today, because we’d love to see you again this season as we present other monuments of the choral and orchestral literature (including The Rite of Spring and Daphnis et Chloé) so that you too can become part of our tradition and our evolution.

— William White

P.S. For those of you who are joining us today because of a particular love for lengthy Baroque oratorios: I’d be remiss if I didn’t draw your attention to our upcoming performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion on Friday, March 20. OSSCS has had much company in presenting Messiah over the past four decades, but no ensemble in the region has performed St. Matthew Passion as often as we have — this will be our 13th time, and an event that you won’t want to miss.

About the Soloists

tsatsanis

Hailed as “ravishing” (New York Times) and possessing “sheer vocal proficiency, a bright, flexible voice, big but controlled, shaded with plentiful color” (The Boston Globe), Canadian soprano Linda Tsatsanis enjoys a career that spans the concert hall, opera stage, movies and television, performing with groups such as the Tallis Scholars, Toronto Symphony, Seattle Baroque Orchestra, Pacific Baroque Orchestra, Early Music Seattle, Pacific MusicWorks, Auburn Symphony and Seattle Opera. Holding a master’s degree from Indiana University specializing in historical performance, she has collaborated with the country’s most prominent early-music chamber ensembles. Her performance of William Bolcom’s Let Evening Come brought her to Carnegie Hall in 2016 and to Merkin Hall in 2018 in celebration of Mr. Bolcom’s 80th birthday. Gramophone described her debut solo album with Origin Classical, And I Remain: Three Love Stories, as a “seductive recital of the darker sides of 17th-century love.” Her past collaboration with the Mark Morris Dance Group inspired her most recent recording, Beethoven alla Britannia, released on Centaur Records in 2016. She can also be heard on the Emmy-nominated PBS documentary When Seattle Invented the Future and various recordings by the CBC and Naxos. Ms. Tsatsanis is currently a Visiting Scholar at the University of Washington. Learn more: www.lindatsatsanis.com

nerys

Praised for her “focused mezzo, real presence, pearly clean sound and crystal-clear diction” (The Times), mezzo-soprano Nerys Jones gained huge success during her time at English National Opera (ENO) in London, perfecting her talent for playing “pants roles.” These included Hansel, Cherubino, Despina, Garcias, Zerlina, Mercedes, Kitchen Boy, Flower Maiden, 2nd Lady, Proserpina, Flora, Melissa, Sister Mathilde and Pitti Sing. She also performed with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Scottish Early Music Consort and the National Youth Orchestra of Wales. Other roles include Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia; Dorabella in Così fan Tutte; Dryad in Ariadne Auf Naxos; Stewardess in Flight; and Angelina in La Cenerentola. More recently, Ms. Jones made her Seattle Opera debut as Inez in Il Trovatore , returning as Giovanna in Rigoletto. Since moving to Seattle, Ms. Jones has also enjoyed a busy concert schedule, working with Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Chamber Music Society, Philharmonia Northwest and Northwest Sinfonietta. A native Welsh speaker growing up in the heart of Wales and surrounded by music from a very young age, Ms. Jones feels blessed to have been born in the country known as the “Land of Song.” Learn more: nerysjones-mezzo.com

tuohy

Tenor Brendan Tuohy has been praised by The Cincinnati Post for his “big, bold tenor edged with silver.” He returned to the Grant Park Music Festival in 2018 to sing Haydn’s Theresienmesse, following a 2017 performance of Beethoven’s Ninth. Other engagements have included Rachel Portman’s The Little Prince with Opera Theater Oregon, Haydn’s The Seasons with OSSCS, Britten’s War Requiem at the University of Washington, and the iSing International Music Festival in Suzhou, China. Recent operatic roles include Tony in Bernstein’s West Side Story, Aeneas in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Bénédict in Berlioz’ Béatrice et Bénédict, all with Eugene Opera, Ferrando in Così fan tutte with City Opera Bellevue, the Chevalier in Dialogues des Carmélites with Vashon Opera, and Tamino in Die Zauberflöte with the Berlin Opera Academy. In France, he has sung Mozart with Opéra Orchestre National de Montpellier and Diomede in Cavalli’s recently rediscovered Elena with l’Op éra d’Angers-Nantes and l’Opéra de Rennes. Mr. Tuohy completed his academic training at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music with a master’s degree in vocal performance. In 2008, he had the honor of singing and competing in the Metropolitan Opera National Council semi-finals in New York City. Learn more: brendan-tuohy.com

Michael Drumheller

Bass-baritone Michael Drumheller has appeared on opera and concert stages across the nation, making solo appearances with the Seattle Symphony, Boston Lyric Opera, Tacoma Opera, Pacific Northwest Opera, Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society, Cleveland Orchestra and OSSCS, and working with such renowned conductors as Robert Spano, Gerard Schwarz and Leonard Slatkin. As a recitalist, he is especially interested in Russian vocal music and has been an invited performer of that repertoire at the Icicle Creek Music Festival and Wellesley College. Mr. Drumheller holds a master’s degree in vocal performance from Boston University, where he was a student of Phyllis Curtin, and has studied with Armen Boyajian, Robert Honeysucker and Julian Patrick, among other notable teachers. An alumnus of the Tanglewood Music Center, he also holds BS and MS degrees in engineering and science from MIT. His diverse background includes playing timpani in symphony orchestras and drumming and singing for his own rock bands. Learn more: michaeldrumheller.com

Program Notes

George Frideric Handel
Messiah, HWV 56

Handel was born in Halle, Germany, on February 23, 1685, and died in London on April 14, 1759. He composed Messiah between August 22 and September 14 of 1741. The oratorio was first performed in Dublin on April 13, 1742, under the direction of the composer. In addition to a quartet of vocal soloists and choir, the work calls for 2 oboes, bassoon, 2 trumpets, timpani, harpsichord and strings.

Handel, renowned in his day as an organist and as a highly prolific writer of Italian operas and English oratorios, was born in Germany in 1685 about a month before J.S. Bach. He received his musical training in Italy, and later became 18th-century England’s “national composer.” Between February and November 1741, Handel — suffering at the age of 56 from various ailments, both financial and physical — withdrew increasingly from public life. At some point that year, the composer received from the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and the governors of Dublin’s three major charitable institutions an invitation to travel to that city to aid the charities through the performance of his music. Handel was well known in Dublin as a church-music composer, and his works were often played there to benefit charities. It may thus have been this invitation that provided the incentive for Handel to compose “a new sacred Oratorio.” In July of 1741, Charles Jennens, who was responsible for the texts of Handel’s oratorios Israel in Egypt and Saul, gave the struggling Handel the libretto of Messiah, a compilation of biblical texts from both the Old and New Testaments.

On August 22, Handel began to set Jennens’ text to music. He finished the first part of his new oratorio (which deals with the prophecy of Christ’s coming and his nativity) in six days, the second part (which describes Jesus’ suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension, the spread of his gospel, the resistance of the heathen, and the vision of the ultimate triumph of the gospel in the establishment of God’s kingdom) in nine days, and the third part (which celebrates the gift of resurrection and eternal life offered to all through Christ’s victory over death) in six more days, with two or three additional days for completing the orchestration. Regarding Handel’s state of mind during Messiah’s composition, biographer Jonathan Keates observes in his 1992 book Handel: The Man and Music that “etherealized visions of the elderly master refusing food, weeping into the semiquavers and having angelic hallucinations are mostly moonshine.”

In the autumn of 1741, Handel accepted the invitation to visit Dublin, arriving there on November 18 with the completed score of Messiah in his traveling bags, but it was not until April 13, 1742, that the oratorio received its premiere. Seven hundred people were able to squeeze into Dublin’s Musick Hall in Fishamble-street to hear the work performed by the choirs of Dublin’s two cathedrals (totaling fewer than 40 men and boys) and the string band (reinforced occasionally by trumpets and timpani — oboe and bassoon parts were written later), all directed from the keyboard by Mr. Handel himself. The work created a sensation: “Words are wanting to express the exquisite Delight it afforded to the admiring crouded Audience,” exulted Faulkner’s Journal. “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.” Handel divided his share of the proceeds (about £400), as did the other performers, among Dublin’s three most important charities.

Messiah is unique among Handel’s works, being his only biblical oratorio using texts from the New Testament, and his only “Christian-contemplative” oratorio. Although the text is not a dramatic narrative but an epic-lyric poem celebrating Christian redemption, Handel’s musical approach in setting Jennens’ libretto was decidedly dramatic. The work’s three parts recall the three acts of Italian operas, and the oratorio is indeed a piece designed by a seasoned operatic professional to “entertain,” in the best sense of the word, listeners in a concert room, not chiefly to instruct or edify a congregation or to be used in any sort of worship.

Handel synthesizes the best elements of the three musical traditions in which he was steeped: the Italian, the German and the English. He makes use of Italian forms of musical expression, borrowing, rearranging and transforming into “duet-choruses” (such as “And he shall purify”) some passages from his own Italian love duets. In the “Pastoral Symphony” (entitled Pifa) that introduces the shepherds, Handel alludes to the music of the pifferari, the country bagpipers who descend the Italian mountains during the Christmas season to play in village streets. Handel employs German musical ideas, particularly in the music describing Jesus’ suffering and death, where the jagged dotted rhythms and forceful harmonies have a particularly German expressive quality. In that great “coronation march,” the “Hallelujah Chorus,” melodic fragments echoing the German chorale “Wachet auf” may be heard in “The kingdom of this world” and in “And he shall reign for ever and ever.” Handel’s melodic shapes, vocal treatment, grand anthem-like choruses, and text-setting display the “English character” that has ensured Messiah’s unchallenged supremacy in the English choral repertoire: in such arias as “He was despised” and “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” the rhythms of the music grow out of the natural speech rhythms of the words, so that the music expresses the text directly and powerfully, and then illustrates it almost visually (e.g., “Every valley shall be exalted,” “The people that walked in darkness,” and “All we, like sheep”).

The easy accessibility and glorious variety of the music that results from the confluence of these elements (and which often conceals the exalted art underlying it) has helped to guarantee Messiah’s survival, through a seeming infinitude of “arrangements,” versions and types of presentation, as one of the most popular pieces ever composed. As R.A. Streatfeild observes, “Messiah, if not Handel’s greatest work, is undoubtedly the most universal in its appeal” because it continues to sing to “high and low, rich and poor, wise and foolish alike” a magnificent song of salvation, fresh, vital and full of aesthetic and spiritual grace.

— Lorelette Knowles

OSSCS and Messiah

The Seattle Chamber Singers first presented (the Christmas portion of) Messiah in December 1970, on a holiday program that included the world premiere of a cantata by OSSCS founder George Shangrow. In those early years George led annual sing-along _Messiah_s at University Unitarian Church, a tradition that began in 1969. And in 1975 he played harpsichord (“superbly,” according to The Seattle Times) in a Seattle Symphony performance of the work.

The following year George (described as a “young man of much hair” by a Times reviewer) conducted the first complete SCS Messiah, billed as “almost a duplicate of the first performance of Messiah as Handel first heard the work” and the Seattle premiere of this “Dublin version” of the score. KUOW-FM broadcast the concert live from Meany Hall and the Times critic praised the “crisp, clean, good sound, a chorus together in joyous harmony.”

George and OSSCS presented Messiah almost every season that followed — except for 1983, 1985 (the Bach Year), 1993 and 1996 — until George’s death in 2010. OSSCS performed it that year in tribute to its founder, but took a break for the next two seasons, returning to the work during Clinton Smith’s first year as music director. Will White continued this tradition last season (his first with OSSCS).

One decision the conductor of any Baroque oratorio must make is which keyboard instrument(s) to use for the continuo section of the orchestra: organ, harpsichord, both? The earliest SCS performances generally featured a single harpsichord, invariably played by composer and keyboardist Robert Kechley, a founding member of the Seattle Chamber Singers. In 1984 he was joined by a second harpsichordist, but then continued solo until 1990, when George began playing and conducting from a second harpsichord, much as Handel himself would have done.

In 1998, OSSCS (with support from the PACCAR Foundation, King County Arts Commission, Visio Corporation and generous individual donors) commissioned Michael Reiter of Tacoma to build a pair of instruments for use in Messiah and other Baroque works. Starting from kits made by Hubbard Harpsichords of Massachusetts, he created two instruments modeled on the French double-keyboard harpsichords of the 18th century. One contains three choirs of strings, while another has four sets of jacks instead of three. The first made its debut at the 1999 OSSCS Messiah concerts, and was joined by its companion the following year.

George and Bob played these harpsichords for Messiah thereafter until George’s death, when this practice subsided. Orchestra Seattle continued to employ one of the instruments for Baroque works, while the other has resided at Benaroya Hall in recent years, used by the Seattle Symphony and distinguished guest artists for many of their Baroque performances (along with some 20th- and 21st-century works requiring harpsichord).

Earlier this year, Seattle-based harpsichord builder David Calhoun overhauled both instruments to his exacting specifications. OSSCS is pleased to welcome Bob Kechley back to the keyboard for our Messiah concerts, sitting opposite Will White at the second harpsichord. We are also grateful to Jeffrey Cohan, who has overseen the care, transportation and tuning of these instruments for many years.