Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra Share “Messiah” with the World

Contributed By Valerie Johnson, Church News staff writer

  • 26 March 2018

Members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Photo by Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News.

Messiah by George Frideric Handel has been hailed as a sacred oratorio for centuries. Certainly the rendition performed in the Salt Lake Tabernacle by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square on March 22 attests to that feeling.

Conducted by Mack Wilberg, the performing groups continued their tradition of celebrating the life and ministry of the Savior through this beloved work.

Renowned opera singers soprano Amanda Woodbury, mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford, tenor Tyler Nelson, and bass-barritone Tyler Simpson were featured in the program, along with organists Richard Elliott, Clay Christiansen, and Andrew Unsworth at the organ.

The lyrics of Messiah are taken directly from scripture and center on the birth, life, death, and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s almost impossible to believe that such a theme could provoke fury and criticism. But when Messiah was first performed, critics and clergy considered it blasphemous for such a sacred subject to be done in such a theatrical format as an oratorio—kin to an opera without staging and costumes. The original performances received lackluster success despite Handel’s popularity.

But, according to the program notes by Dr. Luke Howard, “it was a midday fundraising concert in the still-unfinished chapel at London’s Foundling Hospital … that helped turn around Messiah’s fortunes.” The success was unprecedented, and more performances were soon scheduled.

Amanda Woodbury sings during a performance of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Photo by Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News.

Tamara Mumford sings during a performance of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Photo by Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News.

“Easter-time performances of Messiah continued each year at the Foundling Hospital, and Handel conducted or attended every one of them until his death in 1759.” Howard wrote that while Handel had originally written Messiah to prop up “his own flagging fortunes,” he discovered that it attained its highest success “when employed for the benefit of those with needs greater than his own.”

To this day, Messiah popularity remains. Its choruses have featured in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s repertory since the 19th century, Howard wrote. “And the choir has frequently led the way in making Handel’s celebrated music available to a wider public. 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.”

The “Hallelujah” chorus specifically has appeared on more than a dozen of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s albums over the years.

And so these performing groups continue to bring Messiah to large audiences. The oratorio was simulcast to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and the Conference Center Theater on Thursday night, and on Friday, March 23, a live stream was made available on motab.org/messiah, followed by on-demand availability through April 9. With the live stream, churches and other organizations held Messiah Sing events independently. Photos from such gatherings were shared on social media with the hashtag #MessiahLive.

For more information on how to watch the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square performing Handel’s Messiah, visit motab.org/messiah.

Mack Wilberg conducts the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square during a performance of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Photo by Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News.

Members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform George Frideric Handel’s Messiah at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Photo by Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News.

Members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform George Frideric Handel’s Messiah at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Photo by Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square perform George Frideric Handel’s Messiah at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Photo by Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News.

Mack Wilberg conducts the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square during a performance of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Photo by Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News.

Members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform George Frideric Handel’s Messiah at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Photo by Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News.

Members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform George Frideric Handel’s Messiah at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Photo by Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square perform George Frideric Handel’s Messiah at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Photo by Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News.

Tamara Mumford sings during a performance of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Photo by Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News.

Members of the Orchestra at Temple Square perform George Frideric Handel’s Messiah at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Photo by Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News.

Tyler Simpson sings during a performance of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Photo by Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News.

Members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform George Frideric Handel’s Messiah at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Photo by Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News.

Mack Wilberg conducts the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square during a performance of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Photo by Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News.

Members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform George Frideric Handel’s Messiah at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Photo by Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News.

Members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform George Frideric Handel’s Messiah at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Photo by Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs George Frideric Handel’s Messiah at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Photo by Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News.