Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Merry Christmas from Your Orchestra: Photos from Handel's "Messiah" Performance 2016

Thanks to everyone involved in our 76th presentation this Dec.:  onstage, backstage, support team, and audience. (Photos courtesy of Rollan Fell, Pam Gilbert, Amanda Clark Photography, and OSU Musicians)
Thanks to the Heritage Theater staff and ushers.
OSU President Harold Shirley honors June Thorley for her service to OSU and music.

OSU Director Xun Sun, Chorale Director Jackie Riddle-Jackson, and soloists with the flower girls at the end of the performance.

Interfaith group provided lovely cookies after the performances.

Lobby music for Monday with Handbell Choir

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Moment of Sublime Clarity: Handel’s Messiah

by Bryce Christensen
"Christmas can be a maze of commercialism if we let it,” the Protestant pastor David Jeremiah has remarked. “Instead, let's make it a moment of clarity in which we view our sometimes confusing and threatening world against the back drop of God's gift to us: the Prince of Peace who was announced by angels on that original 'midnight clear.’" For two marvelous evenings—December 11th and December 12th—all of the confusing distractions of commercialism gave way to the blessed clarity of sacred truth for those who gathered in Cedar City’s Heritage Center to share in the city’s 76th production of the Handel’s Messiah, performed by the Orchestra of Southern Utah (OSU) and the Southern Utah Chorale (SUC).  As the latest installment in OSU’s Legacy ’16-’17 Season--devoted to commemorating the diverse legacies that inspire and sustain symphonic music--this performance tapped into what is surely the deepest legacy of all: the “Sacred Legacy” of faith and worship.
Indeed, in his welcoming remarks, OSU President Harold Shirley promised the capacity audience that they would hear “musical testimony” of divine truth, drawn from Scripture, set to music through the creative genius of George Frideric Handel, and performed by a talented ensemble of local musicians, instrumental and vocal.  But before leaving the stage so the performance could begin, Shirley honored long-time OSU member June Thorley—a performer in 74 of Cedar City’s performances of the Messiah—by announcing the establishment of a special scholarship fund at Southern Utah University in Thorley’s name, in recognition of her singular contribution to orchestral music in the community.  In further recognition of Thorley’s exceptional personal contribution to Cedar City’s local legacy of music, Shirley ceremonially retired her violin bow.  
But even as OSU gratefully and appreciatively retired one of its longtime members, it welcomed back its much-loved director and conductor, Xun Sun, returning from a sabbatical absence to take up the baton for a composition he has repeatedly conducted with great fervor in the past.  And Sun was in keen form for this year’s rendition of Handel’s masterpiece, his consummate musicianship evident when the orchestra commanded the spotlight (in the majestic opening Overture and the more tranquil Pastoral Symphony), when the orchestra sensitively accompanied soloists, and finally when the orchestra fused its entire musical resources with those of the Chorale in the irresistible choral selections.  Sun’s inspiring personal investment in this number was especially manifest in his dynamic conducting of “For Unto Us a Child Is Born,” a thrilling outpouring of soulful ecstasy.  
Though down a bit in size from last year, the Chorale lived up to the expectations that had filled the concert hall, delivering powerful collective renditions of well-known numbers essential to this holy-day observance—including the exultant “And the Glory of the Lord,” the empyreal “Glory to God,” the awe-instilling “Behold the Lamb of God,” the bracingly muscular “Since by Man Came Death,” and finally the stirringly reverential “Worthy Is the Lamb That Was Slain.”  Those gathered for the concert rejoiced to hear these familiar numbers, but also welcomed the opportunity to hear one choral selection—“Their Sound Is Gone Out”--often passed over in the now-standard abridged performance format for this very long oratorio.
Despite the reduction in the overall size of the choir, the number of soloists performing in this year’s Messiah remained steady at ten, through the number of male soloists dropped to just three.  The female soloists swelled slightly in number to compensate for the drop in the number of male soloists and were truly dazzlingly in their virtuosity.  Listeners noted with great pleasure that the soloists included some impressive new voices who promise to delight audiences for years to come.  
On the male side, tenor Mark O. Leavitt delivered the recitative “Comfort Ye My People” with tender grace before transitioning to the more strenuous air “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted.”
As the second male soloist, bass Jay Merryweather gave sinewy strength to the recitative “Thus Saith the Lord” and authoritative firmness to “But Who May Abide the Day of His Coming? ”
As the final male soloist, bass Jason Clark plumbed profound spiritual depths in his recitative “Behold, I Tell You a Mystery” before galvanizing his voice in the clarion notes of “The Trumpet Shall Sound.” Joining Clark on this number, instrumentalist Adam Lambert made the radiant brilliance of his trumpet the perfect complement to Clark’s deep tones.
As the first of the female soloists, Ashley Stoddard Carlile performed the recitative “Behold! A Virgin Shall Conceive” with a voice of liquid gold, mesmerizingly luminous, that voice then swelling to a joyous effusion in “O Thou That Tellest.”
“There Were Shepherds Abiding in the Field” became an irruption of the miraculous in the penetratingly beautiful soprano voice of Brandi Hall, who kept her listeners suspended in heavenly heights for “And the Angel Said Unto Them.”
Listeners found celestial comfort in the measures of “He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd,’ perfectly modulated in the alto voice of Rylee Dalton, and then felt the enticings of divine concern in the searchingly compassionate voice of soprano Leslie Perkins’ “Come Unto Me.”
Alto Kalina Stokes interpreted “He Was Despised” with poignant pathos born of heart-rending sorrow at the price Christ paid to redeem a fallen human race.
Conveying a dramatically contrasting mood, Terri Metcalf-Peterson overflowed with transcendent gratitude in “How Beautiful Are the Feet,” her soprano voice vibrant with exalted astonishment at the good news the Lord’s evangelists bring.
And with the supernal conviction of “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth,” Debra Stillman made her marvelous soprano voice a conduit for the holy hope that links Christmas with Easter.  
SUC Director Jackie Riddle-Jackson deserves high praise for preparing the Chorale and the soloists to meet the diverse and daunting challenges presented by this multifaceted number, and to do so in seamless harmony with the orchestra.  
Director Xun Sun and all the musicians who performed beneath his baton likewise merit such praise for coming together in such a wonderfully memorable reunion of conductor and orchestra.

The executives of the State Bank of Southern Utah and the Leavitt group likewise deserve praise for sponsoring this event, so showing that some enlightened leaders of commerce still know how to help the entire community find its way out of “the maze of commercialism” during this season of the year.     

Monday, December 5, 2016

Sacred Legacy: OSU Presents 76th “Messiah” in Cedar City

Artwork "Be Unto Me" by Liz Lemon Swindle

New Feature for Sunday only:
“Musically Speaking” at 6:15 p.m.: Kim Peterson and Susan Allman (pre-concert talk), in Festival Hall, Room 1, upstairs

Lobby Music provided by The Southern Utah Handbell Choir (Sunday) and Harry Taylor on piano (Monday) begins at 6:45 in the lobby.
The Orchestra of Southern Utah invites you to usher in the Christmas season with the 76th annual performance of Handel’s Messiah in Cedar City. Come enjoy this holiday tradition completely free of charge! Xun Sun directs this centerpiece of the Christmas season.

Performances are held on December 11th and 12th . The doors open both evenings at 6:45, and the audience is asked to be seated by 7:15, at which time empty seats will be released to those waiting. The performance begins at 7:30 p.m.

The performances are funded by the generous sponsorships of the State Bank of Southern Utah and the Leavitt Group and are performed with the volunteer service of the orchestra and chorale. As a result, admission is free! Tickets are required and are available at the Heritage Center/Festival Hall office—105 North 100 East in Cedar City during regular business hours. Office is on southwest corner of building. Attendees are encouraged to collect their tickets in advance, as a full house is expected for both performances.

Soloists chosen by audition include Mark O. Leavitt, Jay Merryweather, Ashlee Stoddard Carlile, Kalina Stokes, Leslie Perkins,Terri Metcalf-Peterson, Debra Stillman, and Jason Clark. Soloist Rylee Dalton is a previous R. L. Halversen youth soloist with OSU.

Handel’s Messiah, written in 1741, tells the story of the Christ in three chapters corresponding to His birth, death, and resurrection. The oratorio takes its audience on an emotional and spiritual journey, inspiring awe with the famous “Hallelujah Chorus,” and ending with a reverent and uplifting series of “amen.”

The first performance of Handel’s Messiah in Cedar City was held on New Year’s Day in 1925. Beginning in 1940, it became an annual winter tradition. Originally performed by Southern Utah University (then called the Branch Agricultural College), the Orchestra of Southern Utah has since taken up the mantle.

Chorale Director Jackie Riddle-Jackson said, “This important work of Oratorio proclaims to all that there is hope and joy and great life giving moments ahead, that is why Messiah still remains a relevant and heralded message of Sacred Legacy.” The community Chorale has been rehearsing since October and includes a wide range of ages and professions.

Lobby music starts at 6:45 with Southern Utah Handbell Choir on Sunday and pianist Harry Taylor on Monday.

Children over six are welcome with adult supervision. No babies or younger children please as the performances are recorded.
For more information, please visit, call the Orchestra of Southern Utah at (435) 233-8213, or email

What: 76th Performance of Handel’s “Messiah” in Cedar City
When: Sunday and Monday, Dec. 11 and 12
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Heritage Theater, 105 N. 100 East, Cedar City
Cost: Free, but tickets required. Available at Heritage Center/Festival Hall (Pick up limit of 4 at a time)
Who: Orchestra of Southern Utah and Chorale directed by Xun Sun and Jackie-Riddle Jackson