Maybe it’s watching A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim on TV, or seeing a production of The Nutcracker, or maybe it’s listening to Alan Maitland read the story of The Shepherd: a lot of us have an iconic show we must see or hear during the holidays.
For many music lovers, it’s just not Christmas without Handel’s Messiah.
And the Cowichan Symphony Society is bringing the Victoria Symphony’s production of this oratorio to end all oratorios to the Cowichan Theatre on Monday, Dec. 18 at 7:30 p.m.
This is not “Messiah light” either. It’s all there, including such beloved gems as ‘Ev’ry Valley Shall Be Exalted’, ‘And the Glory of the Lord’, ‘The People that Walked in Darkness’, the ‘Pastoral Symphony’, ‘He Trusted in God’, ‘How Beautiful Are the Feet’, ‘I Know That My Redeemer Liveth’, ‘The Trumpet Shall Sound’, and, of course, ‘Hallelujah’.
Brian Wismath, music director of Vox Humana Chamber Choir, Linden Singers of Victoria, Victoria Choral Society and Victoria Conservatory of Music Chorale, is marshalling the choir for this event.
Lyric coloratura Eve-Lyn de la Haye is the soprano, Justin Odwak, a lieder specialist is the tenor, Kirsten Schellenberg, who could be described as a young Maureen Forester, is the alto, and Michael Nyby is the baritone soloist in the production.
Symphony Society publicist Ted Rhodes also has something personal to share about Messiah.
“I was born in an industrial, wool-weaving town in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England, where both my parents were weaving in the mill at age 12. Culturally, this area was also very musical and close by could be heard the very famous Huddersfield Choral Society and national prizewinning bands such as the Black Dyke Mills Band.
“In our family, two Methodist Chapel services were mandatory every Sunday. As children we were drafted into the church choir at age eight and weekly piano lessons with the organist were arranged for us. These were definitely formative years and they set me on a love of music path which I have always followed.
“One of my fondest childhood memories is ‘Messiah Sunday’ that took place every year on the first Sunday in December. Near the beginning of November, a message went out from our Bethesda chapel to other chapels, churches, choirs and surrounding villages, inviting singers to come for the annual event. Sure enough, over 100 people would show up to four rehearsals. Most of the folks knew it by heart.
“At 2 p.m. on that first December Sunday, with a church full of people, the organist began the proceedings by playing the magnificent ‘Overture’, followed by the tenor solo: ‘Comfort Ye’. Then, the full choir continued with ‘And the Glory of the Lord’. On we went until, after a boisterous rendering of ‘His Yoke Is Easy’, we came to the intermission. Everyone in the church then hurried to tables in the Sunday school hall to partake of their first Christmas dinner. This in itself was huge and it usually finished with impromptu carol singing and some quite funny poetry readings given in the broad Yorkshire dialect. Following dinner at 6 p.m., we were back in chapel where the remainder of Messiah was sung. By this time the audience had grown and become standing room only. The oratorio ended with gusto singing of the magnificent, roof- raising ‘Amen Chorus’ with its climaxing high A’s sung by the sopranos and echoed by the tenors who by now were finding it a bit of a struggle. Nevertheless, we gave it all we had! Returning home after the performance to a warm fireplace, my family knew for sure that Christmas had arrived!
“Here in Duncan on another continent, the Cowichan Symphony Society brings Handel’s Messiah. The society doesn’t present this every year because choirs in the valley also like to give their versions. For example, the Cowichan Consort will perform it in 2018. It seems to me that it doesn’t matter if we hear a full professional performance or a well-done sing-along performance or a few solos and renderings of the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus. What matters is that this timeless music not only provides us with very fond memories of family and friends, but moves us to thoughts of peace, love and truth for all the people of the world.
“Yes, Christmas is here! Let Handel’s music lift your hearts. Be joyful!”
In addition to the performance, everyone is welcome to the prelude wine and cheese event which starts at 6:30 p.m. in the Boardroom of the theatre. The music teacher guest speakers will be Trish Rankin and Meredythe Broadway.
Book your tickets to this event online at cowichanpac.ca or call the Cowichan Ticket Centre at 250-748-7529.