Handel’s Messiah

My family’s love affair with George Frideric Handel’s monumental Messiah began around forty years ago when our school choir presented excerpts at various concerts. Since then, all of us have sung in many performances, either as choristers or soloists. To say we know the music well is an understatement.

On Sunday, I saw the Melbourne Symphony Chorus with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and soloists perform their annual Messiah to a full and enthusiastic house at Hamer Hall. It was a fabulous performance – but a little different.

A major choral work is, of course, made up of the vocal elements that we love, but it is also a demonstration of marvellous orchestration (that being the way the composer directs the different instruments to play). Most commonly, we hear the orchestration by Handel himself, or that of others faithful to the original. Sunday’s performance, however, was not only led by, but also orchestrated by, Sir Andrew Davis, a contemporary English conductor who has worked with the Melbourne Symphony over a number of years.

The singing by chorus and soloists was absolutely beautiful. It was also utterly familiar – just as we like it. It was a comforting cloak that warmed and protected us. The accompaniment, however, was new and fresh. It made use of different colours and combinations of instruments, turned the dominance of strings on its head and contained non-traditional elements (mostly successful). The orchestration was inventive, modern, totally fabulous, and required a new ‘listening’ that we often allow to fall by the wayside in our repeated experiences.

It made me wonder: what else happens underneath that we forget to listen for, or look for? We are accustomed to the RUOK movement that draws attention to the darker side of what might be under a veneer – and so it should. It is an important and vital awareness. What else, though, can be under a surface – what wonders, what delights, what innovation? What fun awaits if we decide to delve a little deeper?

Until next time, and a safe and happy Christmas to you,


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