The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Sacramento City College and
Handel's Messiah 2.0 - April 11, 2015
by Winslow Rogers
This was a Handel's Messiah unlike any that you have ever heard, or ever will hear.
Advertised as a "community sing-along event," it was an informal twenty-first-century Messiah jam session. There was no admission fee. As audience members we could experience Handel's masterpiece inside and out, whether listening to vocal groups who had reimagined individual sections, or singing in the massed chorus sections. It was devoted not to the familiar Christmas parts of Messiah, but to the later sections that are heard less often. The evening included nearly all of Parts 2 and 3 of Messiah.
The co-producers of the event were Daniel Paulson, professor of voice and choral music at Sacramento City College, and David Loofbourrow of the Sacramento Valley Choral Coalition. The Coalition is the recently-formed nonprofit that will produce the second annual SacSings! festival in June at the Harris Center in Folsom. Loofbourrow had the initial idea, recruited the participating groups, publicized the event and provided web support; Paulson produced the event by marshaling the resources of Sacramento City College music department groups, hosting it in the Performing Arts Center theater, planning the mix of instrumentalists and soloists for the concert, and recruiting Sac City College students to provide backstage/house support.
The program notes by Loofbourrow were thorough and informative. They provided the foundation for an event that ventured far and wide during the evening. There's much more information in the program about Handel and about the performers than I can cover in this review.
(Click here to open the concert program in a new window.)
The Sac City Choral Ensembles, the Contemporary Gospel Choir from Cosumnes River College, and the Vocal Art Ensemble from Davis presented individual takes on selected sections. The four massed chorus directors were Paulson, Omari Tau, Tracia Barbieri, and Mariia Pechenova. Their different conducting styles — and teaching styles during the rehearsal two weeks prior — enhanced our singing experience. The seven choruses included the first several choruses of Part 2, the "Hallelujah" chorus at the end of Part 2, and "Worthy is the Lamb" and "Amen," the choruses that conclude Messiah.
Susanna Peeples was a fine alto soloist; other soloists included Andrew Hudson, Paulson, Tau, and Pechenova. Ryan Enright accompanied on organ and gave a show-stopping improvisation on "The Trumpet Shall Sound," just as an organist might have done in the eighteenth century. Heather Razo on harpsichord and Erik Urbino on cello provided solid continuo support.
Some of the sections were "invitationals," in which Paulson invited outstanding singers from the audience to come up on stage to sing in a small-ensemble format, either on a chorus or on one of Handel's solo sections sung in unison. For one chorus, the four conductors sang it admirably as a quartet. The invitationals were part of what gave the evening its loose, improvisatory feel, like that of an all-night jazz session.
The special arrangements were varied and outstanding. The Sac City College ensembles sang three sections in modernized, pleasantly dissonant arrangements that also featured Paulson's beautiful tenor voice. The Cosumnes River College group sang "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth," a soprano solo in the original, as a soulful gospel number, the chorus backing up director Tau's powerful lead voice. The Vocal Art Ensemble dispensed with Handel's 18th century accompaniment on "Since By Man Came Death" to sing it a cappella, as a 17th century motet. This chorus alternates between slow quiet passages ("Since by man came death") with fast loud passages ("By man came also the resurrection"). The singers announced each change from soft to loud with a vigorous foot stamp.
The massed choruses at the end of the concert drew it all together. Pechenova conducted these choruses, as she had the “Hallelujah” chorus. Her direction was clear and dramatic. Like many in the audience, I sensed that I had had a chance to participate in something very special, and as we got to the last page of the score I was sad to have it end.
Winslow Rogers is a choral music lover from Grass Valley. He was a participant in Messiah 2.0 as well as a reviewer. He sang along in the massed chorus sections, fortunately surrounded by much better bass singers, including the fathers of two of the evening's headliners. Thanks, guys!