From the Podium: December, a sacred and magical time for music!

by John Zoltek, Glacier Symphony Artistic Director and Conductor

John Zoltek
Glacier Symphony Artistic Director and Conductor

December, a sacred and magical time for music!

As we enter the holiday month of December, we are anticipating lots of excitement for our concert offerings. This year the Orchestra and Chorale will team up for three performances of Handel’s sacred oratorio, Messiah, one of the most beloved works in the entire choral/orchestra repertoire. The term oratorio refers to a large scale multi-movement dramatic work for soloists, chorus and orchestra based on a narrative text that was developed during the Baroque. The subject is typically sacred but can also be based on myth and secular texts. Although a German speaker by birth, George Frederic Handel (1685-1759) essentially developed the form of the English Oratorio while living and working in London. He composed many English Oratorios but by far his greatest and most popular is Messiah from 1741. The work was originally composed to be performed during the season of Lent for a charity concert in Dublin. But the uplifting power and popularity of Messiah, with its Christian message of salvation told through the life of Jesus Christ, resulted in ever increasing performances. Eventually performances during Christmas time became the norm focusing and illuminating sections of the piece on the birth and celebration of the Christ child. It’s always a great pleasure for me to conduct this masterpiece because it is so well composed, exciting, and deeply spiritual, not only in subject but also in the inspired realization of the music itself, connecting humanity to the divine. Handel, as a master composer of opera, understood deeply the dramatic potential of music and its relation to text. He understood how to develop and build long musical forms by alternating and pacing movements for solo singers with choral numbers at times commenting on the solo narrative and at other times establishing a new narrative direction. Essentially, he fused operatic and dramatic elements into this sacred work.

George Frederic Handel (1685-1759)

Performing Handel’s Messiah is always an extremely satisfying experience. The work never fails to gratify singers, musicians and audiences alike. Messiah is certainly not the only sacred piece composed for Christmas. Other composers, especially from the Baroque also composed choral/orchestra sacred works for the season including Heinrich Schutz’s The Christmas Story and  J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio to name two. But Handel’s monumental work is far and above the most frequently performed and popularly loved work of them all.  Our performances will feature the full power of the 80-voice strong chorale accompanied by a smaller chamber orchestra with oboes, bassoon, trumpets, timpani and strings, Handel’s original orchestration. Guest soloists Emily Murdock (soprano), Derek Larson (tenor) and Brad Seaman (bass) will also be featured.

And then, right before Christmas, the symphony will present a fun filled holiday concert featuring a program of magical popular music by Leroy Anderson, Delius, Mozart, Nicolai and Tchaikovsky. The program also include music from the hit animated movie Frozen and the meditative Stille Nacht by Chip Davis. Our program will begin with the Christmas Overture by Otto Nicolai, a dramatic orchestral work based on the German hymn about the Nativity “Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her”(From Heaven above to Earth I come), originally composed by Martin Luther. We will also feature Sleigh Ride pieces by Mozart, the English composer Delius and of course the American composer Leroy Anderson. There will also be Jingle Bells! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

By Maestro John Zoltek


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