The Messiah truly is a masterpiece
Lucy De Coutere
First Published in the Kingston Whig Standard on December 14, 2018
When I first moved to Kingston, I was told by several friends that this town is a hotbed for music. In the past six months, I’ve seen shows by folk musicians and enthusiastic ’80s cover bands. I’ve gone to kinetic electronica shows in clubs and cozy concerts in people’s living rooms. I’ve checked out experimental jazz accompanying abstract video projects and barbecue gigs. All this has been really good. That said, so far the show that has been the most surprising was hosted last weekend at The Spire: Handel’s Messiah.
In late summer, my friend Meredith told me that Orchestra Kingston and the Kingston Choral Society were mounting a production of Messiah. This is no small feat. In my daily life, I rarely actually encounter a legit masterpiece. I know that this adjective gets thrown around somewhat casually, proclaiming that a perfect latte is a masterpiece or a perfectly sculpted 140-word tweet is one is a real stretch. However, in the case of the Messiah, the word fits the meaning. Messiah is an English-language oratorio composed in just 24 days in 1741 by George Frideric Handel. It has grown to eventually become one of the best-known and most frequently performed choral works in western music. It’s kind of a big deal.
I researched the local talent. According to their respective websites, Orchestra Kingston is a decade-old “community orchestra where amateur musicians play orchestral repertoire under the baton of a professional music director, and to develop their skills as orchestral players in a relaxed but dedicated environment.” The Kingston Choral Society is a “mixed-voice, 100-member chorus celebrating over 60 years of excellence in choral music.” Each community organization is made up of volunteers from varied backgrounds, and varied skill levels. They rehearse for a couple of hours a week and will only come together at the 11th hour to do a couple of final rehearsals before the performance. To me, this all sounds like a lot of voluntary learning in a compressed timeline. Could they pull it off?
The day of the show arrives. I make my way to The Spire and join a queue of concertgoers outside. It’s a full house. Generally, when you go to see a show, you can expect who the audience will be, and oftentimes it’s a pretty narrow swath of the population. At a Taylor Swift show, you can sort of picture the demographic (insert my 16-year-old niece here). At a Buzzcocks reunion tour show (RIP Pete Shelley), you can expect to see guys in their 50s clinging to their 20s and a couple peeps in their 20s manufacturing edginess. A Keith Urban show, again your mind’s eye can likely carve out a pretty accurate portrait of the audience. On Saturday night, I was pleasantly shocked. Sure, there were a number of people who were the very archetypal “Hooked on Classics” fans, with chunky glasses, corduroy and a shock of white hair. But there were also men and women, while dressed in similar garb, 20 or 30 years younger! There were musicians, and teachers, and military folks. The Kingston glitterati was in attendance as well as locals who were more down on their luck. This was indeed a community show.
I can’t count the number of times I have heard the Messiah. Individual choruses and arias were occasionally extracted for use as anthems or motets in church services, or as concert pieces, and to me these extracted chunks strike my eardrums like a “Handel’s greatest Hits.” The Hallelujah Chorus (perhaps the biggest Handel hit of ’em all) is referred to countless times in pop culture. However, to hear this brought to life by a couple hundred people with the delicious acoustics that The Spire was designed to deliver, it is a humbling experience. While I am not a follower of any religions, as I listened, I closed my eyes and was deeply struck. The concert seemed to become an almost psychedelic experience. The call and repeat of the musical phrasing, the chorus’s ebb and flow inexorably moved from auditory to visual as a kaleidoscope of images started to fill my mind’s eye. When I opened my eyes, I could see lots of other audience members also had their eyes closed and don’t doubt they were sharing this trip.
The Messiah is iconic at least. However, who’d have thought it would be a town’s binding agent. The musicians sang and played their guts out, and for a couple of hours, everyone in that room was transported to a different realm. My friend Hugh said it best when, after the final applause died down, he exclaimed, “Well done, Community.”
Lucy De Coutere, a former cast member of the successful Canadian TV series Trailer Park Boys, is a member of the Canadian Forces and recently moved to Kingston.
A GENERAL OVERVIEW OF THE ‘GRAND FINALE’, May 8, 2015
By Barbara Fear
A capacity crowd welcomed Orchestra Kingston and the Kingston Community Strings to their inaugural joint concert at The Isabel concert hall on May 8.
A carefully chosen program engaged the audience who responded with enthusiasm.
Canadian composer Godfrey Ridout’s rousing “Fall Fair”, conducted by Wayne Tindale, united the musical forces on stage and filled the hall with rich exciting sound.
Following, in contrast, Maestro Tindale conducted John Rutter’s “Suite for Strings”, a work filled with stylish sophistication and a gentleness of mood that captivated the audience once again. Revealing hints of familiar themes throughout, the Strings brought a tenderness to the music which ended with a rhythmic third movement.
Concluding the first part of the programme, Mendelssohn’s “The Hebrides, op.26” took the full stage with conductor John Palmer. Evoking the roiling foam of a storm on the water surrounding Fingal’s Cave in northern Scotland, the music’s strong, dynamic themes showcased the brasses. As the force of the storm declines, a peaceful calm spreads throughout the music.
Sir Malcolm Arnold’s “Little Suite (No. l)” opened the second half of the programme.
Once again, the hall was rewarded with a pleasing work, that challenged and enlightened the audience and orchestra alike. The work was originally composed for the National Youth Orchestra of Britain which Arnold founded, and revealed a unique and pleasing sense of style which he espoused as a non-conformist of his time.
Concluding the evening, Conductor John Palmer’s original composition in four movements, “Suite of Spanish Dances” gave the ‘grand’ touch to the Grand Finale. Comprising music related to four similar but different dances in the Spanish style, it roused endless musical visions of Matadors, Bull Rings, sensuous Tango dancers, Carmen Miranda and her Rumbas with great aplomb.
Need I say it was a ‘blast’? It left the audience a tad breathless, yet eager for more.
All in all a successful evening of memorable music, talented conductors and musicians, and hope of another such concert to come.