The sacred oratorio Messiah was written in London between 22 August and 14 September 1741 by George Frideric Handel, to text compiled by Charles Jennens and based on the King James Bible and the Coverdale Psalter.
Handel's Messiah remains one of the world's most popular choral works, almost achieving cult status. Many different editions of the work have been produced - see below for a rare performance of Mozart's edition - and performances are often scheduled for the Christmas season and Eastertide. (It was originally performed as an Easter oratorio.) When British King George II attended its Dublin first performance in 1742, he is said to have been so moved by the Hallelujah Chorus that he rose to his feet – a tradition that audiences continue today.
With the number of shopping days until Christmas decreasing quickly, music lovers around the world will be able to hear Handel's work at multiple performances around the world this coming December, and a few of them are mentioned here.
Anyone near to Worcestershire in England will be able to hear the oratorio sung by a hundred and forty voices and renowned soloists at Worcester Cathedral on Saturday 9 December 2023 at 7.30pm.
The specially candlelit concert, which includes choral favourites such as the 'Hallelujah Chorus' and 'For unto us a child is born', is being staged by the region's leading large classical choir, Worcester Festival Choral Society.
Also appearing are acclaimed soloists Emilia Morton, soprano, Tom Lilburn, counter tenor, Matthew Minter, tenor and James Oldfield, bass baritone. Accompanying is the Meridian Sinfonia Baroque orchestra. The concert is led by Worcester Cathedral's director of music, Samuel Hudson.
Sue White, chairman of Worcester Festival Choral Society, said:
Handel's Messiah is a real joy to listen to, and to perform! It's a wonderful way to herald the Christmas season. We're expecting a packed Cathedral!
Established in 1861 and closely associated with Edward Elgar in its early years, Worcester Festival Choral Society draws its auditioned singers from across the region. Many of its members are also selected for the prestigious Three Choirs Festival Chorus each summer. The Society stages three major concerts in Worcester Cathedral each year, bringing some of the world's ‘great choral works' to the City. A popular Come & Sing one-day workshop is also held each spring.
Further information: wfcs.online
If you're not anywhere near Worcester UK, read on for some alternative performances of Handel's Messiah in December 2023.
With Peter Whelan conducting, Chamber Choir Ireland and the Irish Baroque Orchestra take to the stage, with step-out soloists from the choir, in Dublin (St Patrick's Cathedral, Friday 1 December, 7.45pm) and Wexford (National Opera House, Saturday 2 December 2023, 7.30pm) in the country where Handel's Messiah was first performed.
Soloists Dmitry Sinkovsky, countertenor, Nola Richardson, soprano, David Portillo, tenor and Dashon Burton, baritone, with The Singers — Minnesota Choral Artists and the St Paul Chamber Orchestra conducted by Matthew Culloton perform Messiah at the Basilica of St Mary in Minneapolis, USA on 14 and 15 December 2023, both at 7pm, and at Ordway Concert Hall in Downtown St Paul, on 16 December at 7pm and 17 December 2023 at 2pm - both venues in Minnesota, USA. Information: thespco.org
Messiah performances in the Western world tend to happen a little earlier than at Christmas itself, probably because it's such a major holiday that it becomes difficult to gather performers at that time. In Japan, though, where 25 December is just another working day - although the shops are still full of tinsel, Christmas trees, reindeer, sleighs, Father Christmases and other decorations - Masaaki Suzuki and Bach Collegium Japan's Christmas Concert 2023 takes place at Suntory Hall in Tokyo on Christmas Eve, running from 4pm until way past 7pm. If you visit Japan for Christmas and New Year, one of the most spooky experiences is the secret removal of all the Christmas paraphernalia overnight, a few days after Christmas, and its replacement with the traditional Japanese bamboo for the multi-day New Year celebrations.
Although the chance of snow on the ground may be considerably less, Auckland Choral's 17 and 18 December 2023 performances of Messiah in the Great Hall, Auckland Town Hall, New Zealand, feature Pipers Sinfonia and conductor Uwe Grodd. Information: aucklandlive.co.nz
Back in the UK, the London Handel Festival presents Messiah on Thursday 7 December 2023 at St George's, Hanover Square. Laurence Cummings conducts the London Handel Orchestra and Choir of St George's. Information: london-handel-festival.com
Also in London UK, at the Barbican Hall on 12 December 2023 at 7.30pm, the BBC Singers with conductor Sofi Jeannin and the Britten Sinfonia provide a rare chance to hear Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's large-scale arrangement of Handel's work, adding clarinets, flutes, horns and trombones to the orchestration. The soloists are Hilary Cronin, soprano, Helen Charlston, alto, Laurence Kilsby, tenor and Morgan Pearse, bass. Information: barbican.org.uk
Returning, geographically, near to where we began, The City of Birmingham Choir and the CBSO's Messiah performance is at 7pm on Friday 8 December 2023 at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, UK. Information: citychoir.org.uk
Finally, although we know of no live performances of this currently, it's worth considering Messyah by British composer Paul Ayres, whose compositions, arrangements and performing groups often have names such as Satsumas are the Only Fruit, Music of the Fuchsia and Always look on the bright side of life. Messyah is an in progress re-working of many of the movements of Handel's masterpiece which is different to most other arrangements and is possibly, in the spirit of Monty Python, 'not the Messiah' but 'a very naughty boy'. Information: paulayres.co.uk
Do you know of further Messiah-related performances in December 2023? Let us know and we'll add them here.
Posted 3 October 2023 by Keith Bramich