Choir's Messiah Performance Highlights Easter Weekend

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 4 April 2016

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square perform Handel's Messiah in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, March 24, 2016.  Photo by Debra Gehris.

Article Highlights

  • On March 24 and 25, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed Handel's Messiah for a vast audience.
  • A video featuring the Tabernacle Choir combined with a "virtual" choir added to the Easter celebration.

“In his edition of this celebrated oratorio, Mack Wilberg has created a Messiah that combines historical research into baroque practices with the rich, established traditions of larger-scale performances.” —Dr. Luke Howard, musicologist and Tabernacle Choir member

A two-night performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square of George Frideric Handel’s legendary oratorio Messiah capped the Church’s Easter initiative this year.

The concerts were presented in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Easter weekend, March 24 and 25, under the direction of music director Mack Wilberg. All three Tabernacle organists—Clay Christiansen, Richard Elliott, and Andrew Unsworth—augmented the orchestra with harpsichord, small organ, and the Tabernacle’s famed pipe organ.

Guest soloists performing with the choir and orchestra were soprano Erin Morley, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, tenor Paul Appleby, and bass Joseph Barron.

On-demand Internet streaming of the recording of the Good Friday performance is available now through Monday, April 4, at 11:59 p.m. MDT. To view it, go to the choir’s website, www.mormontabernaclechoir.org/messiah.html, or go to the Church’s website, LDS.org, and look for a link on the home page.

Free tickets to the concerts were all distributed within seven minutes after they were offered. Demand was such that attendees who could not be admitted to the Tabernacle were invited to view the concerts via simulcasts on large screens in the Legacy Theater of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and in the Conference Center Theater.

At the invitation of the choir organization, churches and other groups around the world held individual “Messiah Sing” events, using either the live stream on Good Friday or the on-demand Internet stream at other times.

The concerts capped Messiah-related events stretching over the past two years, beginning on Easter weekend in 2014, when the full oratorio was presented in the Tabernacle.

The choir and orchestra that year made a landmark new recording of Messiah. That album was released in early March of this year in two versions: the complete oratorio on CD with a bonus DVD, and a “highlights” CD containing some of the best-loved choruses and featured solo selections.

Messiah was also featured prominently last December in the Christmas concert of the choir and orchestra, which featured selections from the oratorio punctuating a narrative about the circumstances surrounding the creation of the oratorio and how it grew in popularity over the years.

The oratorio was the centerpiece of the Church’s Easter initiative this year, which included two videos produced by the Church and made available on the Church website.

One is a tribute to Jesus Christ as the Messiah of the world and features young people in various parts of the world expressing their feelings for Him and the Atonement, with subtle allusions to scriptures and musical strains that are part of the oratorio.

The other is the largest “virtual” choir performance of the “Hallelujah” chorus from the oratorio. It includes individual videos submitted by thousands of contributors around the world and electronically combined with a performance by the choir and orchestra.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has long been acquainted with Handel’s Messiah.

“Its first recording in 1910 included the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus in what is almost certainly the first record of a Messiah excerpt made outside of England and the first recorded by a large established choir,” wrote Dr. Luke Howard, a musicologist and a member of the choir’s bass section, in program notes for the concerts.

“The Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s 1959 Messiah with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra earned a gold record and in 2005 was inducted into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. Later recordings of Messiah choruses conducted by Richard Condie in 1974 and the complete oratorio under the direction of Sir David Wilcocks in 1995 continued this legacy, and the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus has appeared on more than a dozen of the choir’s albums over the last century.”

So what makes this recent performance and recording different?

“In his edition of this celebrated oratorio, Mack Wilberg has created a Messiah that combines historical research into baroque practices with the rich, established traditions of larger-scale performances,” Brother Howard wrote. “Using Handel’s original orchestration of strings, oboes, and trumpets as a foundation, Wilberg has retained only the woodwind and brass parts from [later] editions that are consistent with Handel’s compositional and timbral choices.”

Brother Howard noted that Brother Wilberg has refined the rhythms, phrasing, and articulations of the vocal and orchestral parts to reflect 18th-century principles of clarity and definition that were present when the oratorio was first performed in Dublin with only about 30 singers and an equal number of musicians. At the same time, he has preserved the grandeur of later Messiah performances that were on a much larger scale.

Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, one of four guest soloists, performs one of the arias in Handel's Messiah on March 24, 2016. Photo by Debra Gehris.

 

Messiah could not have been performed this way even 20 or 30 years ago, when tastes were different and traditions were in flux,” Brother Howard noted.

“It’s tempting to wonder how Handel himself may have crafted his score for Messiah, had he known it would be performed by a celebrated 360-voice choir, four renowned opera soloists, and a modern symphonic orchestra. We’ll never know, of course. But there’s no doubt he would have leaped at the opportunity.”

Many people have leaped at the opportunity to enjoy this latest Messiah offering by the choir and orchestra, as shown by the reactions on social media, some of which are displayed on the choir’s webpage.

One listener sent in an Instagram video of her toddler singing along and wrote: “Spent a good portion of the day watching #messiahlive on LDS.org with Rhoda singing along. Her interpretation of ‘Ev’ry Valley Shall Be Exalted’ is my favorite thing right now—she’s definitely got a bright future as a baritone with her husky voice.”

Another wrote: “Having major orchestra envy during the MoTab performance of Handel’s Messiah tonight! What a lovely start to Easter weekend.”

Still another submitted a photo of a group who had gathered in an LDS chapel to sing along with the Internet feed and wrote: “A beautiful way to spend Easter Sunday evening, joining the Worldwide Messiah Sing. Peace, love, and joy from Chorley, England!”

Tenor Paul Appleby, one of four guest soloists, performs one of the arias in Handel's Messiah on March 24, 2016. Photo by Debra Gehris.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square perform Handel's Messiah in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, March 24, 2016. Photo by Debra Gehris.

Tenor Paul Appleby, one of four guest soloists, performs one of the arias in Handel's Messiah on March 24, 2016. Photo by Debra Gehris.

The women's section of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs in Handel's Messiah in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, March 24, 2016. Photo by Debra Gehris.

The men's section of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs in Handel's Messiah in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, March 24, 2016. Photo by Debra Gehris.

Bass Joseph Barron, one of four guest soloists, performs one of the arias in Handel's Messiah on March 24, 2016. Photo by Debra Gehris.

The women's section of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs in Handel's Messiah in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, March 24, 2016. Photo by Debra Gehris.

Bass Joseph Barron, one of four guest soloists, performs one of the arias in Handel's Messiah on March 24, 2016. Photo by Debra Gehris.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square with guest soloists stand to acknowledge applause after part 1 of Handel's Messiah at the Salt Lake Tabernacle on March 24, 2016. Photo by Debra Gehris.

Erin Morley performs a soprano solo in Handel's Messiah on March 24, 2016. Her father is a former member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and her mother plays in the Orchestra at Temple Square. Photo by Debra Gehris.

Digital control board is used in the production of the recording and Internet broadcast of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square performance of Handel's Messiah in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on March 24, 2016. Photo by Debra Gehris.

Members of the men's section of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform in Handel's Messiah in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, March 24, 2016. Photo by Debra Gehris.

Music director Mack Wilberg conducts the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square performance of Handel's Messiah in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on March 24, 2016. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Music director Mack Wilberg conducts the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square performance of Handel's Messiah in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on March 24, 2016. Photo by Debra Gehris.

The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square stand to acknowledge applause after part 1 of their performance of Handel's Messiah at the Salt Lake Tabernacle on March 24, 2016. Photo by Debra Gehris.

Photo from Church meetinghouse in Chorley, England, submitted on Instagram is one of many compiled by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir organization reflecting churches and groups around the world that sang along with live or on-demand Internet streaming of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's performance in Salt Lake City of Handel's Messiah on Good Friday, March 25, 2016. Photo courtesy mormontabernaclechoir.org.

Members of the Draper Utah Crescent View Stake sing the “Hallelujah” chorus along with the Internet transmission of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square performance. From left are Kaye Ostler, Mike Meyerson, stake president Ron Ostler, Sharee Jorgensen, Gary Wixom, and Steven Elder. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.