|St. Mark's Cathedral, Seattle|
Photo: Marissa Meyer
|Peter Hallock, 2009|
Cathedral Associates’s decision to cancel the Messiah tradition was justifiable. The production cost about $70,000 annually ($100,000 in today’s dollars), mostly in musician fees—the orchestra and choir are all professional musicians, as are the soloists who were imported from all over the world. After the third year in a row losing about $17,000, they threw in the towel. The market had also become saturated with Messiahs—audiences could go to Benaroya or attend any number of sing-alongs to get their fix.
Handel wrote Messiah originally for modest vocal and instrumental forces. In the years after his death, particularly during the Victorian era, there was a phase when Messiah was performed by larger and larger ensembles as if competing to see just how big a chorus and orchestra could be crammed onto one stage. Mozart even got in on the action with his own arrangement, which was not to everyone’s taste. One critic said that it “resembles elegant stucco work upon an old marble temple… easily… chipped off again by the weather.” The trend in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has been toward performing Messiah with intimate, more modest instrumentation.
Ironically in Seattle—one of the early music centers in the Pacific Northwest—the intimate version is in scarce supply. Larger productions by well-established musical organizations like the Seattle Symphony dominate the scene, along with the ever-growing number of sing-alongs that accompany them. While we applaud their efforts for keeping Messiah in the classical mainstream, Handel originally conceived the work for much smaller instrumental and choral forces.
Our Messiah ‘Reboot,’ performed by 18 players on baroque period instruments and 16 singers, is more what Handel had in mind. One may worry about the smaller ensemble lacking the punch of a larger orchestra and choir. On the contrary, the dynamic range of the work is much easier to hear with fewer musicians, making for a more exciting, larger-than-life performance. The increased clarity allows the audience to hear the athleticism in each musical line that larger productions lack. The sound of baroque instruments is also unique. Compared to their modern counterparts, they tend to be quieter and brighter and are well-suited to the fast-moving demands of the ornate oratorio. By hiring a professional choir of only 16 singers instead of a tour de force symphonic chorus, you are able to hear the small details in the choral writing that make Messiah an intricate baroque masterpiece.
We believe we have found a financially sustainable way to present a unique, intimate Messiah once again in Seattle. Although Messiah is often performed in December, an April performance (the weekend after Easter) avoids the threat of snow, keeping revenue up. We are fortunate to employ the excellent local singers right here in the Pacific Northwest. By hiring locally, we save money on the flight and hotel costs we would need to pay for out-of-state soloists. The soloists (nine total) are selected from the choir, allowing us the artistic freedom to assign solos to precisely the right voice type.
We hope you will enjoy our reboot. We are looking forward to showing you why this Messiah tradition is worth reviving.
MESSIAH PERFORMANCES featuring the Byrd Ensemble and Seattle Baroque Orchestra
Friday, April 26 at 7:30 p.m.
14500 Juanita Dr NE
Kenmore, WA 98028
Saturday, April 27 at 7:30 p.m.
St. Mark's Cathedral
1245 10th Ave E
Seattle, WA 98102
DOCTORAL DISSERTATION BY JASON ALLEN ANDERSON, DMA, 2007
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