George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah,” composed in 1741 as an oratorio with orchestra, soloists and a chorus, has been the single most performed piece of classical music worldwide for over 280 years.
“Messiah” will be the featured work in the upcoming concerts by the South Florida Symphony Orchestra on Saturday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m.at The Parker in Ft. Lauderdale and on Sunday, Dec. 3 at 4 p.m. at the Shepard and Ruth K. Broad Performing Arts Center at Barry University in Miami Shores.
Handel wrote “Messiah” in English to be performed in three parts with 53 movements in 2 hours, 45 minutes. Many contemporary orchestras perform a variation of “Messiah” in two hours.
SFSO Musical Director Sebrina Maria Alfonso will be conducting a 55-minute version of “Messiah” instead.
“Our concerts are family-friendly and with many children anticipated in the audience, it will be extremely difficult to perform a concert for such a lengthy time,” said Alfonso.
Additionally, she says, “There are going to be a lot of musicians in the orchestra, a very large chorus and four professional vocalists, so a two-hour plus concert would be taxing on the performers.”
Handel’s “Messiah” is based on the sacred texts found in the King James Bible. His composition chronicles the life of Jesus Christ in three parts: the philosophy of Jesus and its fulfillment, the suffering of Jesus and the redemption of Christ.
The SFSO version of “Messiah” will focus exclusively on the first part of Handel’s composition.
“I respect all that Handel composed, but I was not comfortable including what on the surface looks like religious dogma in parts of ‘Messiah.’ There are many faiths in the world and I want people to remember the beautiful melodies and the spirit of God moving us in our community of many faiths when we perform ‘Messiah,’ ” says Alfonso.
Alfonso noted that librettist Charles Jennens, who gave Handel the sacred texts for “Messiah,” intended the words of the composition to describe the mystery of Godliness, rather than strict Christian doctrine.
“Messiah” was composed by Handel to be featured with two trumpets, a timpani, two oboes, two violins, a viola and a basso continuo. Handel also envisioned large choruses and many vocalists to sing the many melodies that have endured with audiences for over two centuries.
The primary vocalists in the two concerts will be soloists Katherine Henly (soprano), Neil Nelson (bass baritone), Chauncey Packer (tenor) and Lisa Marie Rogali (mezzo soprano)
Giselle Elgarresta Rios will lead the 85-member South Florida Symphony Chorus.
“With dazzling special guest vocalists joining our world class musicians and the South Florida Symphony Chorus, the holiday celebration is more than just a concert. It is a warm and inviting tradition that unites our community in the spirit of the season for people of all ages to treasure,” according to Jacqueline Lorber, President and CEO of SFSO.
The 55-minute “Messiah” will feature Handel’s most well-known songs in the composition such as “For Unto Us a Child is Born,” (chorus) “Comfort Ye My People” (sung by Packer), “The People That Walked in Darkness Have Seen a Great Light” (sung by Nelson), “Rejoice Greatly O Daughter of Zion” (sung by Henly), leading up to the finale with “Hallelujah” (chorus and soloists).
“Messiah” will be performed in the second act of the concert following intermission.
The 35-minute act one performance will include a rendition of “The Prayer” as a duet with Packer and Rogali and a Hanukkah song with Spanish lyrics “Ocho Kandelikas,” which translates in English to “Eight Little Candles”.
“This Hanukkah song is about a young child’s joy lighting the eight candles of the holiday. The song is performed with our vocalists singing in Ladino accompanied by our orchestra primarily with strings in a tango rhythm.. It is a joyous song that fits in the holiday concert,” said Alfonso.
Following the December concerts, SFSO will celebrate African-American Heritage Month in January with concerts in honor of African-American composers Florence Parker and Jessie Montgomery with performances on their compositions on Wednesday, Jan. 17 at The Parker in Fort Lauderdale and Thursday, Jan. 18 at Temple Israel in Miami.
The SFSO season also includes Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9” on March 3 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Ft. Lauderdale, selections by Bernstein, Ravel and Zwilich on March 25 at New World Center in Miami Beach and on March 27 at The Parker in Ft. Lauderdale, Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5” on April 17 at The Parker and April 18 at Temple Israel, a performance of the music from the film “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” on April 5 at the Broward Center and a salute to The Beatles on May 11 at the Broward Center.
South Florida Symphony Orchestra performs Handel’s “Messiah” and holiday songs in concert featuring four soloists and the South Florida Symphony Chorus on Saturday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. at The Parker, 707 NE Eighth Street in Ft. Lauderdale and Sunday, Dec. 3 at 4 p.m. at Shepard and Ruth K.Broad Performing Arts Center at Barry University, 11300 NE Second Avenue in Miami Shores. Tickets range from $20-95 for the Dec. 2 concert and $15-78.50 for the Dec. 3 concert. Tickets and information at southfloridasymphony.org or 954-522-8445.