“Christmas,” as Duke professor
remarks, “. . . requires Easter. . .
. Easter--the resurrection--is why Christmas is Christmas.” And no
celebration of Christmas more compellingly links these two holidays—these two
holy days—than does the marvel that is C. Kavin Rowe Handel’s Messiah.
On December 9th and 10th, the Orchestra of
Southern Utah (OSU) and the Orchestra of Southern Utah Chorale renewed the
profound linkage between the two holidays with masterful performances of
Handel’s masterpiece, the apt theme “A Magnificent Story” pointing
concert-goers to a sacred scriptural story beginning in a stable in Bethlehem
and ending—no, not ending—in a tomb outside Jerusalem.
In his welcoming remarks,
invited those in attendance to join in recognizing the more-than-human
significance of the celebratory performances as “our gift to the King.”
Repeatedly, the wonderful music that followed indeed strengthened faith
in the Heavenly King who, as the Christmas babe, lay sleeping in a manger crib,
but who, as the Easter Lord, rose triumphant from his sepulchral bed. How
fitting that this concert dedicated to the memory of two former OSU violinists,
Judith Spender Larsen and Harold Shirley , should stir supernal
hope of redemption from death! Mary
From the majestic opening strains of the “Overture,” to the overwhelming Amens of the final Chorus, “Worthy Is the Lamb That Was Slain,” two hundred chorale and orchestra musicians carried listeners along this inspiring journey from Christmas to Easter, filling the hearts of all in attendance with a double measure of holiday spirit.
deserves high praise for so superbly preparing the 64 musicians under his baton
to deliver almost two hours of exquisite music, thrillingly rendered. A
positively ecstatic presence on the director’s podium, Sun signaled by his
impassioned gestures his own complete investment in the music he was leading.
Though entirely instrumental at some points—most notably, in the “Overture” and
the “Pastoral Symphony”--that music served as complement and accompaniment most
of the evening to the splendid vocal music of the chorale. And though she
was less visible than Maestro Sun, Chorale director Jackie Riddle-Jackson
merits no less favorable recognition, particularly for her labors in selecting
fifteen soloists and then assigning the two dozen recitatives and airs so that
all shone with impressive brilliance in their performance. Xun Sun
With the poise of a singer well seasoned as a Messiah soloist, tenor Lawrence Johnson began the evening’s solos by delivering “Comfort Ye My People” with moving emotion, before rendering “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted” with the exalted sense of a prophetic visionary. Likewise familiar to Cedar City audiences as a Messiah soloist, baritone Alex Byers conveyed a sense of unshakeable conviction from the very first note of “Thus Saith the Lord,” before his powerful voice articulated searching questions in “But Who May Abide the Day of His Coming?” calling mortals to the deep self-scrutiny.
Her voice tremulous with expectation, mezzo soprano
revisited messianic hopes in “Behold! A Virgin Shall Conceive,” before
seamlessly segueing into the joyous imperatives of “O Thou That Tellest.”
With something of the seraphic in her own beautiful soprano voice, Jessie
Byers carried listeners to a scene of angelic choirs with “There Were Shepherds
Abiding in the Field,” “And the Valerie Wainwright Angel
Said Unto Them,” and “And Suddenly There Was With the Angel.”
In measures electric with celestial rapture, soprano
Marla McMaster sang
“Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion,” after which soprano
infected her listeners with human astonishment at divine miracles in “Then
Shall the Eyes of the Blind Be Opened.” Jaclyn Thompson
In a voice evocative of supernal watchcare, soprano
sang “He Shall Feed His Flock Like A Shepherd,” her notes tenderly poignant.
And in soprano Ashlee Lieske ’s “Come Unto Me,” listeners
heard the plangent pleading of an infinitely loving Lord. Kristina
Plaintive and redolent with pathos, alto
“He Was Despised” marked a moment of singular poignancy in the performance.
Likewise heart-piercing was Jaclyn Thompson’s “He Was Cut Off,” a
penetrating soprano solo all the more remarkable coming from a singer who
would later demonstrate her exceptional range by singing “Then Shall Be Brought
to Pass” as an alto. Sandy Hedgecock
Listeners glimpsed the darkest spiritual threats but found ultimate reassurance in alto
’s “But Thou Didst Not
Leave His Soul.” And with the soaring notes of the very gifted soprano Emily
“Thou Art Gone Up on High,” listeners climbed to blessed realms, there
experiencing immense thankfulness for the bounty of a triumphant Lord. Terry Metcalf-Peterson
But the full Easter import of this unforgettable Christmas celebration rang out in soprano Jasmine Hailstone’s “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth.” Endowing Job’s ancient prophecy with all the effulgent meaning of its fulfillment through
Christ, Hailstone made
her song a vibrant testimony of essential Christian belief.
Forcefully amplifying that testimony, bass
Curtis Chamberlin sang
“Behold, I Tell You A Mystery” before trumpeter
joined in “The Trumpet Shall Sound” in a dazzling duet of human and
instrumental soloists, Richard McMaster Chamberlin’s rich bass voice
plumbing the depths and McMaster’s radiant brass
notes scaling the heights of the miraculous resurrection Christ
won for all.
As the last of the soloists, alto Brooke Alldredge and soprano Kara Barney sang “O Death, Where Is Thy Sting” in harmonious interplay, a magnificent weaving together of two well-paired voices, preparing the audience for the outpouring of the two final choruses: “But Thanks Be to God” and “Worthy Is the Lamb that Is Slain.”
All the of evening solos were compelling, but even more praiseworthy than her work in preparing the soloists was Riddle-Jackson’s remarkable labors with the chorale as a whole, labors clearly manifest in the way all 136 voices melded into one potent, perfectly modulated force when rendering the dozen choruses performed during the concert. Who could resist the exultant transport of “And the Glory of the Lord,” the jubilant elation of “For Unto Us a Child Is Born,” the worshipful adulation of “Glory to God,” the anguished pathos of “Behold the Lamb of God,” the boundless gratitude of “But Thanks Be to God,” or the awe-inspiring grandeur of “Worthy Is the Lamb That Was Slain”? Though the tradition that began with
brings the audience to their feet only for the sublime “Hallelujah” Chorus,
listeners at this fabulous concert must have felt like leaping to their feet
for at least four or five of the outstanding choruses the Chorale performed. George II
As concert-goers left the
these two December nights, wintery temperatures and patches of snow marked the
season as Christmas. But with echoes in the deep heart’s core of empyreal
music delivering the promise of “victory through our Heritage Center Lord
,” all who attended
left certain that spring would soon bring the transcendent promise of Easter. Jesus Christ
For that renewed certainty, the throngs leaving the Center could thank two hundred devoted musicians, two inspired directors, and two generous event sponsors (the Leavitt Group and State Bank of
Utah). In this certainty, grateful listeners found a
Christmas gift that will last until Easter—and beyond.