Tabernacle Choir Performs Handel’s Messiah

Contributed By By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 29 April 2014

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square perform George Frideric Handel’s Messiah, conducted by Mack Wilberg, for an Easter concert at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 18, 2014.  Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Article Highlights

  • The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square appeared together at the Easter concert for the first time in 10 years to perform the two-hour, 45-minute production of Handel’s Messiah.

In presenting Handel’s Messiah in concert in its entirety April 18–19, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square gave an Easter gift to the community, at the same time showcasing a masterwork that, perhaps better than any other musical achievement in history, highlights the gospel of Christ in its breadth and depth.

First presented in Dublin, Ireland, at Easter time on April 13, 1742, the oratorio ranges through the Old and New Testaments, its libretto by Charles Jennens exploring through verbatim scriptural passages the mission of the Savior.

The first of its three parts underscores prophecies about Christ in the book of Isaiah and elsewhere and touches on Christ’s nativity and ministry.

The second part deals with the events of His Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, and ultimate triumph over death (heralded by the famous “Hallelujah” chorus).

Part 3 looks forward to the coming of the Lord in glory, beginning with the familiar passage from Job 19:25: “I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth,” and ending with jubilant praise from Revelation 5:13: “Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.”

In the eyes of an admiring public, the choir and Handel’s most esteemed oratorio have long been inseparable.

The choir’s landmark 1959 recording of Messiah with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra was in 2005 placed by the Library of Congress in the National Recording Registry because of its historical significance.

Since then there have been a 1974 album by the choir of Messiah choruses with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and a 1995 CD of the complete oratorio with Sir David Wilcocks as guest conductor.

Choir renditions of the “Hallelujah” chorus have been included on numerous recordings, including the choir’s first, made in 1910.

Thus it was that choir devotees, when tickets to the Easter concert became available, snapped up all of them within seven and a half minutes.

This left choir officials with some decisions to make.

Mack Wilberg conducts the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square as they perform George Frideric Handel’s Messiah for an Easter concert at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 18, 2014. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

There were calls from the public to move the concert from the 3,500-seat Salt Lake Tabernacle to the 21,000-seat Conference Center.

“The Conference Center is not a very good location for classical music,” explained the choir’s general manager, Scott Barrick. “It would have been a completely different experience. For example, when we perform with the Utah Symphony for the Tanner Gift of Music, we do popular concerts in the Conference Center, but classical ones are always done in the Tabernacle.”

Moreover, the concert in the Tabernacle was in preparation for a new recording of the oratorio that will be done in the Tabernacle in May, and it would not have been practical to change the concert venue.

Instead, the choir organization opted to make the concert accessible to as many viewers as possible by carrying it to nearby overflow locations and offering it as a live stream over the choir’s Internet website. Through Monday night, the entire two-hour, 45-minute event (including two intermissions) was available on demand on the choir’s YouTube channel.

Mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford sings with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square as they perform George Frideric Handel’s Messiah, conducted by Mack Wilberg, for an Easter concert at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 18, 2014. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

When released in May 2015, the new recording, like the concert, will reflect the research of choir musical director Mack Wilberg.

Luke Howard, a musicologist at Brigham Young University, explained in notes in the concert’s printed program that Brother Wilberg “has carefully studied the work of other historical composers who have enlarged upon Handel’s score—Mozart, Hillar, Prout, Goossens—and learned from their efforts. Using Handel’s original orchestration of strings, oboes, and trumpets as a foundation, Wilberg has retained only the woodwind and brass parts from Mozart’s and Prout’s editions that remain true to Handel’s compositional ideas and the principles of baroque timbre, while also providing the necessary instrumental support for a large choir.

“He has also refined the rhythms and articulations of the vocal parts so that the choir can sound as much like a baroque chamber group as possible, while still able to bring its impressive resonance and dynamic variety to the grander choruses. In short, this is a Messiah that honors both historical traditions simultaneously: the work’s baroque origins and its subsequent development through the Romantic period.”

As integral to the oratorio’s magnificent choruses are the arias and recitatives sung by four soloists.

At this performance, these were provided by the following:

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square perform George Frideric Handel’s Messiah, conducted by Mack Wilberg, for an Easter concert at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 18, 2014. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Soprano Melissa Heath of Murray, Utah, a product of BYU and the University of Utah with national and international credits.

Mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford, a star of the Metropolitan Opera and a native of Sandy, Utah.

Tenor Brian Stucki, a Salt Lake City resident who has appeared at Carnegie Hall in New York and other stages nationwide.

Bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen, a performer in regular demand by the world’s leading opera companies.

This was the first time in 10 years that the choir and orchestra have appeared together for the annual Easter concert presented on Temple Square.