The American Bach Soloists, under the baton of conductor Jeffrey Thomas, will be back at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday to perform Handel's famous oratorio, "Messiah." Courtesy photo

Mondavi Center

American Bach Soloists return with ‘Messiah’ on Sunday

By From page A11 | December 14, 2011

Celebrate the season

What: American Bach Soloists’ annual performance of Handel’s “Messiah”

When: 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Jackson Hall, Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, UC Davis

Tickets: $35-$55 general, $17.50-$27.50 students; www.mondaviarts.org, (530) 754-2787

The American Bach Soloists return to the Mondavi Center on Sunday with their annual performance of G.F. Handel’s famous oratorio “Messiah.” This year, the concert will start at 4 p.m.

The Bach Soloists have performed “Messiah” each December at Mondavi since the center opened in the fall of 2002. The group’s highly rated 2005 recording of “Messiah” (on the Delos label) draws on December 2004 performances in Jackson Hall.

While “Messiah” has come to be closely associated with the Christmas season in the minds of many, it is worth remembering that Handel composed the vast oratorio — in barely three weeks! — during late August and early September 1741, and premiered the work in April 1742.

The oratorio’s text — passages from The Bible selected by the composer — covers the crucifixtion and resurrection of Christ, in addition to his birth. The premiere took place in Dublin, in a recently built theater, rather than a church or cathedral.

Handel, who was born in Germany, had been known for much of his career in England as the composer of operas in Italian, though he had written sacred works as well.

As conductor Jeffrey Thomas of the American Bach Soloists notes, ” ‘Messiah’ blurred the distinction between opera, oratorio, passion and cantata” — a situation that made some listeners a bit uncomfortable at first.

But “Messiah” soon caught on with audiences, and became far and away the most popular and frequently performed of Handel’s works. The number of musicians involved in “Messiah” performances got bigger and bigger during the late 1800s, sometimes involving hundreds or even thousands of singers and orchestra members.

The American Bach Soloists endeavor to present “Messiah” as it likely was heard at the premiere — with a relatively modest-sized orchestra including valveless trumpets, and a chorus of about 35 voices.

According to Thomas, ” ‘Messiah’ always shines brightest when graced by historically informed performance practices. It is especially then that the true splendor of Handel’s sublime eloquence triumphs.”

This year’s vocal soloists are Mary Wilson, soprano; Ian Howell, countertenor; Charles Blandy, tenor; and Jesse Blumberg, baritone. Wilson, Howell and Blumberg have appeared in Davis with the Bach Soloists in the past.

Tickets are $35-$55 general, $17.50-$27.50 students, available online at www.mondaviarts.org or by calling the Mondavi box office at (530) 754-2787.

Jeff Hudson

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