A holiday tradition at Abravanel Hall

By By Christie Franke

By Christie Franke

When Handel’s oratorio “Messiah” premiered in 1742, it was sung closer to Easter than it was to Christmas. This was the tradition during Handel’s lifetime, but since then, it has changed to the Advent before Christmas. As such, the Utah Symphony and Chorus will be presenting it at Abravanel Hall on Nov. 24 and 25.

Since its premiere, the Messiah has been a tradition in multiple countries. For more than 250 years, it has been well-loved — and its most well known chorus is, without a doubt, the “Hallelujah.”

Legend is that when the King George II of England first heard the “Hallelujah” chorus, he stood up. No one knows why he did it, though explanations abound — maybe he needed to stretch, or perhaps his gout (a particularly nasty affliction affecting the legs, though this explanation wouldn’t make much sense) was acting up, or he arrived late to the performance and the court stood up to greet him. Whatever the cause, it has always been the tradition to stand when the King does, and concert goers have kept the tradition alive with the “Hallelujah” chorus.

Another tradition revolving around the famous chorus is to have the audience sing along. The Symphony and chorus are keeping this tradition alive by inviting concert-goers to bring along their own copies of the score, so that they can follow along with the choir and take part in singing the chorus. The preferred edition to obtain is the G. Schirmer vocal/piano edition, but any edition will do, really. The “Hallelujah” chorus is so famous that even beginners will find it hard not to follow along.

Structurally, the “Messiah” is divided into three parts: “The Birth,” “The Passion” and “The Aftermath.” Naturally, it tells the story of Christ, which is why it’s sung at Easter and Christmas. The libretto is taken from the Bible, most liberally from the Book of Isaiah, the four Gospels and Job.

Part I, “The Birth,” tells of the prophecies concerning the world and the coming of Christ and extends through to the miracles. Part II, “The Passion,” is commonly the Easter section — it discusses the sacrifice of Christ and the resurrection. Guess which part is the “Hallelujah” chorus?

The resurrection.

Part III, “The Aftermath,” largely focuses on the Book of Revelation and its prophecies: the promise of redemption, Judgement Day, God’s triumph.

Taken in its literal context, only Part I of the “Messiah” should be performed at Christmas, but it’s unlikely that audiences would be satisfied to attend a performance of Handel’s work that lacked his most famous chorus. In truth, it wouldn’t be Christmas without a performance of the “Messiah,” would it?

This year’s performance celebrates the Symphony’s 30th year of the tradition. Performances are on Friday and Saturday, at 7 p.m. in the evening. Soloists for the performance are Shannon Kessler, soprano; Erica Brookhyser, mezzo; Tanner Knight, tenor; and Chad Sloan, bass.

Tickets are $7 and $14 and can be purchased by calling 801-533-NOTE (6683) or 1-888-451-2787, in person at the Abravanel Hall box office or by visiting www.utahsymphony.org.

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