The Hillsdale College Choir, Chamber Choir, and Symphony Orchestra will perform George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” at College Baptist Church Dec. 2 through Dec. 4.
“‘The Messiah’ is a special opportunity and I am very excited to be a part of it,” sophomore Alex Pankow, a member of the chorus, said.
The choirs and orchestra have joined to perform the oratorio once every four years since 2000, but this year’s is the first complete performance. Professor James Holleman said small sections have been cut in previous years — in 2012, for example, he chose to omit an aria, a chorus, and an orchestral interlude.
“This year, the choir was learning the music very quickly, and the voice faculty wanted to add the aria back, so I said we might as well perform it to completion,” Holleman said.
Holleman explained that understanding of “Messiah” as simply a collection of arias, reprieves, and chorals — meaning cutting one or two would not be discourteous to Handel’s message — is an incorrect one.
“It’s a consistent biblical narrative, so the story is incomplete if sections are left out,” Holleman said. “Why be so close and not do it in completion?”
The decision to perform the complete oratorio also reflects a higher quality of musicianship, according to Teacher of Music Debbi Wyse, who is an organist and a leader of choir rehearsals for the performance. She said she has admired the effort put forth by the 170 members — 130 in the choirs and 40 in the orchestra — of the performance.
“We really have a solid group this year; top-notch kids,” Wyse, who has been on the Music Department staff for all four prior performances, said. “It’s a great way to showcase everyone’s hard work.”
Holleman, who is directing both the choir and orchestra, said he has employed certain points of contrast throughout the performance, such as the variation in soloists and the use of basso continuo. Instead of having a single tenor or soprano sing all tenor or soprano parts, he has assigned solos to 36 students.
“I’m matching their abilities, whether they’re music majors or not, which balances it and gives them the opportunity of having a solo at a level with which they will succeed,” Holleman said.
This diversification of solo parts also mimics the tradition of Handel’s time — during his own production of “the Messiah,” Handel used 28 soloists. Furthermore, Holleman has assigned some choral movements to the larger college choir and some to the smaller chamber choir.
Composers of the Baroque period, like Handel, used an element called basso continuo to fill in harmonies with a keyboard instrument. Holleman has replicated this through the use of not only the organ but also a harpsichord, played by visiting Associate Professor of Music Theory Daniel Tacke.
“Personally, I am very excited to hear Professor Tacke play harpsichord — he is doing an outstanding job of that,” Wyse said.
Holleman said most conductors of “the Messiah” will “wobble” through the music, despite Handel’s preference of moving through it briskly. Not only will there be no intermission during the show — in part because of the limitations from the size of College Baptist Church — but the performers also will not take breaks between movements.
“I keep it connected and move along so we don’t become stuck in it,” Holleman said.
The performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 2 and 3 and 3:00 p.m. on Dec. 4. All three performances are sold out, but there are wait lists in the event of cancellations. Music Department staff are encouraging students on the wait lists or who have already been granted tickets who can no longer attend the performance to contact the Sage Box Office and release their name, so others can get seats for the performances.