The majesty of the “Messiah” filled Mission Santa Clara on May 4. The combined voices—100 strong—of the Santa Clara Chorale and student choirs of Santa Clara University, accompanied by the Jubilate Baroque Orchestra, brought the audience to its feet in recognition of their powerful performance of G. F. Handel’s world-famous oratorio.
SCC guest conductors Dr. Magen Solomon, Interim Director of Choral Activities at Santa Clara University, and Dr. David Wilson, founder of the Santa Clara Chorale in 1962 and professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, shared the limelight.
“This annual collaboration of the SCU choirs and the Santa Clara Chorale is a wonderful opportunity for singers from both organizations to make intergenerational music together,” says Solomon, who conducted Part I of the oratorio. “It is a special privilege and joy for me to share the podium with my good friend and former colleague David Wilson.”
Premiering in Dublin, Ireland, in 1742, “the popularity of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ has become unprecedented. Not only is it the cornerstone of the repertoire of choruses on every continent, but it has remained the single most-performed and listened to piece of classical music in the world,” says Wilson. “The ‘Messiah’ can be performed any time of year because it takes in the entire church year, dealing with the birth, passion, death, and resurrection of Christ.”
“Handel was so brilliant at describing something in music. He was a melodic genius,” continues Wilson. Handel used the text drawn from the Bible by his friend and librettist Charles Jennens to fire his imagination.
“The ‘Messiah’ covers the gamut of emotions based on the texts of the old and new testaments—introspective, agitated, joyful, triumphant, tragic. The beauty of the piece is that there is so much variety. Every movement has a different character with its own tempo, dynamics, orchestration, phrasing, and articulation. The sheer variety of musical styles keeps the audience engaged,” says Wilson.
The May 4th performance used the performance practices and musical instruments typical of Handel’s time, when the playing style was rhythmic and detailed rather than sprawling and symphonic.
“The chorale has extremely talented, fine musicians, and they totally mastered the score. Their challenge was to master the technical difficulties of each choral movement,” Wilson says, noting the polyphonic texturing—the interweaving—of voices around each other, tricky rhythms, and very fast runs.
Shawnette Sulker, soprano; Brian Thorsett, tenor; Jeff Fields, bass; and Dan Cromeenes, alto—and also the rehearsal accompanist—were the guest soloists.
“It’s wonderful to be back conducting the chorale I started 50 years ago and to see how the organization has grown and matured into one of the cultural icons of Silicon Valley,” says Wilson, who commuted weekly from his home in Phoenix to rehearse and conduct the chorale in this season finale concert. “It’s so rewarding, and the chorale has been so generous and enthusiastic. I was honored to be asked to conduct.”
“It is a new experience for many of our SCU students to sing with a chorus of 100 plus an orchestra,” says Solomon. “Frankly, it’s a lot of fun to make a really loud noise—in the service of beautiful and powerful music—especially in the resonant acoustic of our gorgeous Mission church. I hope that these experiences will encourage the students to build a life in which singing always has a place.”
Santa Clara Chorale will present a free Encore Concert June 2, 3 p.m., at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 1957 Pruneridge Ave., Santa Clara. The chorale will reprise favorite songs from its 2012-2013 season.