|Comic strip panel template as an example for high school|
|Comic strip panel template as an example for high school|
By Bryce Christensen
Music critic Howard Reich recently lamented the impact of COVID-19 on this year’s Christmas observance. “The vicious coronavirus pandemic,” Reich complained, is “robbing us of something . . . essential to the holiday season: live performances of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah.” Such live performances, Reich noted, were cancelled at numerous Chicago-area churches and concert halls, and he highlighted the cancellation of Handel’s masterpiece at the University of Chicago, the first cancellation of this event at that venue since 1930. “There will be,” Reich remarked, “a hole in our musical lives this season as we yearn to experience again [the] magnum opus Handel composed.” “How,” Reich asked his readers, “do we cope without the soaring melodies and communal experience of Handel’s ‘Messiah’?”
Cedar City’s music lovers recognize the real pain in Reich’s question. Fortunately for them, however, it is not a question they have to answer. Thanks to the exceptional courage and resourcefulness of Cedar City’s Orchestra of Southern Utah and Chorale and their leaders, Cedar City’s music lovers have not experienced “a hole in [their] musical lives” this Christmas season: the 80th municipal performance of Handel’s sublime composition came off on schedule on the nights on December 13th and 14th in Cedar City’s Heritage Center, and then became available online from December 19th through January 1st. Extending a concert season devoted to the theme of Romanza, the celestial concert performed on these two nights rose above merely human romance to celebrate “The Mystery of Godliness” in Handel’s singularly worshipful composition.
To be sure, the unfortunate human realities of a pandemic were very visible to those attending this year’s performances of The Messiah in the Heritage Center: attendance was limited to just 220 socially distanced listeners each night, both listeners and performers were masked. To further reduce the risk of viral contagion, the numbers of those performing in the choir and in the orchestra were reduced this year.
Making a virtue of necessity, the orchestra restored a fuller period-of-composition authenticity to this Baroque masterpiece by dropping out of the orchestra modern instruments (such as the clarinet) that Handel would not have had in mind when creating his masterpiece. At one point, the violinists even used the Baroque bow hold, a hold in which the player grips the stick only. For listeners accustomed to the sound of a modern orchestra, the result was a pleasantly piquant musical transport to Handel’s symphonic world, a world narrower perhaps than its modern equivalent, but a richly sonorous one nonetheless.
Handel himself would have appreciated the way OSU Director Xun Sun directed this year’s pared-down, Baroque-style orchestra. From the very first magisterial notes of the “Overture” that began the evening’s performance, that orchestra responded with impressive fidelity to Sun’s impassioned yet sensitive direction. No one watching the conductor on the stand could doubt his deep commitment to producing a compelling version of Handel’s work. And whether performing in the spotlight (as they were in the opening “Overture” and the later “Pastoral Symphony”) or providing the musical background for the vocalists (as they were for most of the concert), the instrumentalists maintained a distinctively high level of musicianship in the unusual Baroque mode of this concert.
No doubt Handel would likewise have lauded Jackie Riddle-Jackson for preparing the vocalists who performed superbly in this year’s version of The Messiah. Because choral numbers entail greater risks than solos of contagion not only in performing but even in rehearsing, this year’s Messiah comprised fewer such numbers--only nine--than in the past, while incorporating more solos--twenty.
The volume of the chorus selections may have been down this year--but not the quality. The “soaring melodies” that Reich yearned for but could not find in Chicago’s concert venues were thrillingly present when the Chorale rose to sing “And the Glory of the Lord,” “For Unto Us a Child Is Born,” and “Worthy Is the Lamb That Was Slain.” And no program note was needed to explain the impulse that brought all to their feet for the ethereal “Hallelujah Chorus”! Indeed, the compelling power of the perfectly harmonized voices in this year’s choir made every one of the choral selections a reason for listeners to rejoice.
Perfectly complementing the collective brilliance of the choir, the thirteen vocal soloists who performed in this year’s Messiah all delighted and inspired the gathered listeners. All performed with a musical mastery requiring many, many hours of preparation to attain. As the first of the evening’s impressive soloists, tenor Derek Holt delivered “Comfort Ye My People” and “Every Valley” with resonant power. The next soloist, bass Joseph Marrow, sang “Thus Saith the Lord” with authoritative gravity. Bass Alex Byers plumbed profound emotional depths in his “But Who May Abide the Day of His Coming?” and again in his later “Why Do the Nations So Furiously Roar Together?” As the first of the evening’s female soloists, alto Taliah Byers performed the recitative “Behold! A Virgin Shall Conceive” with great feeling and sang “O Thou That Tellest” with a lyrical sense of grateful wonderment.
Entrusted with three selections--” There Were Shepherds Abiding in the Field,” “And the Angel Said Unto Them,” “And Suddenly, There Was with the Angel”--soprano Erica Griffin rendered all three with a remarkable depth of feeling. Griffin’s joyful ecstasy in “And Suddenly, There Was with the Angel” was especially memorable. Conveying a similar sense of exultant jubilation, soprano Dee Holt sang “Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion!” with luminous intensity.
Her voice suffused with awe, soprano Jasmine Hailstone delivered the recitative “Then Shall the Eyes of the Blind Be Opened,” then sang “He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd” in tones of tender thanksgiving. The enraptured audience then heard Hailstone render “Come Under Him” in notes of plaintive pleading. Alto Natalie Davila carried the audience into empyreal harmonies in “How Beautiful Are the Feet of Them.” Her exquisite voice resonant with soul-deep conviction, soprano Elise Fulton performed “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” with a transcendence connecting Christmas with Easter.
His voice radiant with a fiery faith, baritone Curtis Chamberlain performed “Behold, I Tell You a Mystery” and “The Trumpet Shall Sound” with irresistible energy, his vocal fervor melding with the penetrating brass summons of solo trumpeter Will Zeller. Alto Brooke Alldredge sang a plangent solo in “Then Shall Be Brought to Pass,” then joined with tenor Jacob Moss in “O Death, Where Is Thy Sting?” Their duet an outpouring of evocative jubilation. As the final soloist in a concert remarkable for its talented soloists, soprano Jessie Byers sang “If God Be For Us” with angelic fervor.
OSU leaders Riddle-Jackson and Sun deserve high praise for having all the participants primed to do this year something that many other areas simply could not manage this year. Naturally, their remarkable accomplishment required exceptional staff support. “The OSU Manager Rebekah Hughes . . . [was] amazing in instituting safety protocols, paying extra rental fees for rehearsing onstage to give more space between musicians, and keeping the music alive," said Sara Penny, OSU Assistant. Also meriting praise for making this unforgettable night of music possible are State Bank of Southern Utah and the Leavitt Group, whose generous sponsorship made tickets free for all in attendance. Such magnanimous sponsorship is an essential part of what gave Cedar City a priceless musical experience, an experience sadly denied this year to the residents of Chicago and many other large cities.
Link for online performance: website link to performance Dec. 19 to January 1
More information and photos of the performance: Performance photos and program
Information on production: Article describing the performance
The 80th Cedar City performance of Handel's Messiah was an act of faith and safety protocols during a pandemic. Masks, temperature checks, smaller orchestra, and smaller choir to allow for more spacing were just a few of the challenges. Thanks to everyone who participated and made these performances possible. The performance will be online from December 19 to January 1st. Click here: link for performance Program below photos and on the website with LiveNote link.
Thanks to Christian Bohnenstengel, Amy Gold, and Rebekah Hughes for the photos. Thanks to everyone who participate onstage, backstage, and in the audience.
Thanks to sponsorship from the State Bank of Southern Utah and the Leavitt Group for making this gift to the community possible.
Sunday Performance, photos by Christian Bohnenstengel:
Before the performance photos by Amy Gold:
The Heritage Center lobby is always wonderful and we appreciate the wonderful support staff at the Heritage Theater. (Photo by Lisa Cox)
Backstage view and other photos by Rebekah Hughes
|Thanks to Nature Hills Farm and Heather Carter for providing the greenery for the stage garlands.|
Program pages designed by Rollan Fell, click on the individual pages to read more clearly.
Best wishes for a Merry Christmas
and thanks again to everyone involved in this longstanding Cedar City tradition.