You’ll enjoy reading these commentary notes on Messiah.
As for myself, I can hardly believe there’s only a dress rehearsal and then the performance this week-end. We’ve been so busy preparing for the Holiday Pops concert with the NC Symphony, and that was a fun performance opportunity throughout Thanksgiving week-end, and only two full rehearsals since then devoted to this cantata, which is our main concert offering for this semester.
Messiah is a wonderful piece of music. We tend to think of it as a Christmas offering, but it was originally performed in 1742 as an Easter cantata. The cantata is divided into three parts: Part One celebrates the Incarnation of the Promised One of Israel, Part Two is devoted to the Passion, and Part Three is a reflection on the nature of our salvation and a looking ahead to the Last Judgment. It could very fittingly be performed at any time of the year, and in fact some of its arias are featured as solos in churches throughout the year: “He Shall Feed His Flock,” “I Know that my Redeemer Liveth.”
It has been a worshipful experience for me to work on this cantata, even at the breakneck speed at which we’ve approached it this semester. Al’s sensitivity to the spiritual content of the work, merged with his musical expertise, have brought out elements of worship and awe unlike any prior performance or recording I’ve ever heard. I’ve mentioned the light-heartedness of the melismas in a number of pieces (you’ve no idea how much HARD WORK it takes to make some music sound and feel light and airy) — lightness of joy and confidence in the Gift of God. And Awe — that’s the overriding theme I’ve encountered these past few months: Awe of the Incarnation, Awe of the immediate presence of God, Awe of His mercy, Awe of Who He Is. Combined, every time we rehearse this cantata, it is an experience almost of being placed in front of a peep-hole into Heaven.