There is nothing more gratifying for a journalist than to know that people are reading your column. A great deal of work goes into the crafting of each and every one, so when you get responses from readers, you know you've reached them.
In the case of my last column (Nov. 28) about holiday choral concerts, I received several emails from groups whose concerts were not mentioned. Some were quite indignant. And while I explained that space is always a consideration, I realize that it is still important for music lovers to find out about these concerts, so I decided to do a "Best of the Rest" column to cover off some upcoming choral concerts that were missed in the last one. Unfortunately, some brought to my attention have already taken place, but here are two for your consideration.
It's hard to imagine Christmas without a performance of Handel's masterpiece, Messiah. This year, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) is bringing in renowned Handel expert Ivars Taurins to conduct two productions of this uplifting oratorio -- 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 15, Centennial Concert Hall, with a repeat performance the following afternoon in Brandon.
Taurins and the WSO will be joined by a superb group of mostly home-grown soloists: Andriana Chuchman, soprano; Kirsten Schellenberg, alto; Victor Engbrecht, bass; and one from "away," British Columbia-born Isaiah Bell, tenor. The many memorable choruses will be sung by the Mennonite Festival Chorus, who will doubtless sing their hearts out, as they always do.
Taurins will be remembered for his appearance here just over a year ago in an all-Handel program with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra and the Winnipeg Singers. As founding director of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir and principal violist of the Tafelmusik Orchestra for its first 23 years, his experience is imposing.
"I've directed Tafelmusik's Messiah continuously since 1981," he said via email. "There have been the performances with the Calgary Philharmonic since 2000, where I was principal baroque conductor from 2000-2011, and guest appearances with Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Nova Scotia, and now the Winnipeg Symphony. That puts me at around a total of 175 performances... and counting."
It can be a challenge to conduct such a well-known work. Most audience members have heard it countless times, and may come with a pre-conceived notion of how it should be interpreted. "Of course, we all become familiar, through exposure, with certain great works of art, whether it be Handel's Messiah or Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet," said Taurins. "But when it comes to recreating/interpreting a piece of music or theatre one has to turn to one's own knowledge, experience and vision when grappling with the "text" of a great work of art. There is no one way to perform Messiah, and every interpretation is valid in itself. My approach is to try to see the work from the composer's viewpoint -- through his language... through his experience, so to speak.
"There's always something new to discover and marvel at in Handel's Messiah. Handel's keen sense of musical architecture and drama, finely honed from his work in opera, creates a piece which has tremendous impetus, intensity, and balance. You can see it in his manuscript of Messiah: his pen couldn't get his thoughts on the page fast enough!"
To those who have yet to attend a performance of this iconic work, Taurins asks, "What are you waiting for? Handel's Messiah has withstood the test of time, and its sublime music and uplifting message is nourishment for the soul, especially at this time of year when we all look for something deeper, something more relevant and special in all the seasonal commercial glitz and frenzy that Christmas has become."
Tickets are $23.75 to $92, available at 204-949-3999 or at www.wso.ca
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If you're looking for something a little lighter, you might enjoy Christmas Harmony, with the combined voices of the Assiniboine Show Chorus (a local chapter of Sweet Adelines International) and the Winnipeg Golden Chordsmen, also on Saturday. Shows are at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Sturgeon Creek United Church, 207 Thompson Dr.
Yes, a Christmas show featuring barbershop harmony all the way. There will be a selection of songs and carols performed by each choir separately, in quartets and as a massed group. Some of the songs planned for the program include Silver Bells, O Holy Night, Kneeling at the Manger, Hallelujah and Long, Long Time Ago.
Tickets are $15, available at the door or by phoning 204-837-4767 or 204-475-3116. Children under six admitted free.
Wishing you and yours a wonderful -- and music-filled -- holiday season.