Messiah makes Facebook debut

Trinity Church Wall Street hosted one of the earliest American performances of Handel’s Messiah in 1770.

Now, for the 250th anniversary, it’s giving the Facebook premiere.

Practically a second coming.

Press release below.

This season, when the pandemic has made most live performance impossible, Trinity keeps the tradition alive with a special interactive Facebook Premiere at 3pm on December 13, when viewers can tune in to see a complete concert performance of the work, captured live last year in high definition, by the Grammy-nominated Choir of Trinity Wall Street, Trinity Baroque Orchestra and Music Director Julian Wachner. The oratorio’s movements will be interspersed with personal video messages from ten key Trinity artists, and there will be a live comment thread for audience members to chat with Wachner, the musicians and other viewers around the world. Representing the culmination of Trinity’s “Messiah Week” – five days of related webcasts in the daily “Comfort at One” series – the Facebook Premiere invites music-lovers everywhere to come together at the end of this difficult year to take solace in Handel’s enduring and uplifting work.

Trinity was instrumental in pioneering the Messiah in the Americas, hosting one of the first American performances in 1770. As Baroque specialists whose vocal soloists are drawn from the choir and whose instrumentalists are expert performers on historical instruments, Wachner, The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra now rank among the foremost exponents of the perennial holiday favorite. Their authentic approach “demonstrate[s] why historically informed performance makes a difference,” notes the Wall Street Journal. As the New York Times observes: “With the church’s choir and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra, a period band, Mr. Wachner provides gritty, gutsy, edge-of-the-seat performances.”

The upcoming Facebook Premiere will feature personal video messages from Trinity’s Associate Organist Janet Yieh; The Choir of Trinity Wall Street’s sopranos Sonya Headlam, Michele Kennedy and Molly Netter, alto Pamela Terry, baritone Christopher Dylan Herbert and basses Paul An, Enrico Lagasca and Jonathan Woody; and Wachner himself. Offering viewers a rare glimpse of their lives at home, the artists will talk about the ways they’ve continued making music during the pandemic, sharing messages of hope and connection with Trinity’s global community.

By way of an upbeat to the main event, “Messiah Week” provides opportunities to revisit highlights of some of Trinity’s other past performances of the oratorio. Viewers can stream a series of solos from baritone Thomas McCargar from 2018 (Dec 8), bass Jonathan Woody’s account of “He was despised” from the same year (Dec 10), and a number of the work’s most rousing choral movements: “For unto us a child is born” from 2017 (Dec 7), “And he shall purify” from 2018 (Dec 9), and “Surely,” “And with His stripes” and “All we like sheep” from the 2016 performance.

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  • It is a work for Lent.

    Sadly the American tradition is Part One plus the Hallelujah chorus — less than half of the oratorio — performed during Advent.

    • In New York City professional performances, the oratorio is usually given complete.

      Yes, it’s during Advent rather than Lent or Easter, but that’s when audiences want to go and hear it.

    • My ancestor who assisted Handel in Dublin with his house organ, recorded Handel saying he would not mind it if it was performed during Advent or any other time.

  • To be clear, it’s only the Facebook part of this that’s new. Trinity Wall Street posts video of its Messiah — and all of its other concerts — on the church’s own website (and has done so for years). And the videos remain available for quite some time, often a year or more. (There are a couple of very creditable Bach Passions there, among other things.)

    The New York Times says that Trinity Wall Street’s Messiah is the city’s best. I agree that that’s true for the orchestra and (usually) the chorus; whether a given year’s Messiah is good, excellent or iffy depends mostly on which singers (all members of the choir, all of whom also work as professional soloists) happen to be assigned which arias. Sometimes the fit between singer and song is just right, other times … not so much.

  • Here is what it should sound like. There is nothing finer than 16 Gentleman lay clerks and Vicars choral and 16 choristers. In London Mr Handel had Bernard Gates and the Gentleman of His Majesty’s Chapel Royal.

    Messiah
    A Sacred Oratorio
    Music: G F Handel
    Text: Charles Jennens
    (1754 Foundling Hospital)

    Academy of Ancient Music
    Choir of Christ church Cathedral, Oxford
    Dir Christopher Hogwood

    Soprano I Judith Nelson
    Soprano II Emma Kirkby
    Contralto Carolyn Watkinson
    Tenor Paul Elliot
    Bass David Thomas

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdlyoEpCV9k

    MAJORA CANAMUS
    And without controversy, great is the mystery of
    Godliness: God was manifested in the flesh,
    justified by the Spirit, seen of angels, preached
    Among the Gentiles, believed on in the world,
    Received up in glory.
    In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and
    knowledge.

  • The first performance of Messiah in Dublin required the agreement of the Dean and Chapters of both Cathedrals, Dr Charles Cobbe, Christ Church, and Dr Jonathan Swift St. Patrick’s. Dr Swift penned the now famous letter to his Sub-Dean and Chapter:

    And whereas it hath been reported that I gave a licence to certain vicars [singers] to assist at a club of fiddlers in Fishamble Street, I do hereby declare that I remember no such licence to have been ever signed by me; and that if ever such pretended licence should be produced, I do hereby annul and vacate the said licence; intreating my said Sub-Dean and Chapter to punish such vicars as shall ever appear there, as songsters, fiddlers, pipers, trumpeters, drummers, drum-majors, or in any sonal quality, according to the flagitious aggravations of their respective disobedience, rebellion, perfidy and ingratitude.

    Fortunately, in March 1742, the Committee appointed for the three charities which Handel designated as beneficiaries, Mercer’s Hospital, the Charitable Infirmary and the Charitable Musical Society, were careful to make approaches to the Deans and Chapters of both cathedrals, to allow the performance at the Musick Hall in Fishamble street.

  • Mr Handel revised and modified Messiah the score from 1741 to 1754, making various changes to the parts to accommodate singers , voices, adding wind instruments (oboes, bassoons), horns were used at the Foundling Hospital performances as the records show, in Dublin two trumpets (State trumpeters from Dublin Castle were employed by kind permission of the Lord Lieutenant, William Cavendish, 3rd Duke of Devonshire).

    I have in my library a copy of the Dublin word book.

  • For Dublin, my ancestor noted, Mr Handel made several changes to the score and parts for example, as follows:

    He cast the opening of ‘Thus saith the Lord, the Lord of Hosts’, which was set as an arioso a tempo ordinario with three bars of instrumental introduction, as an accompanied recitative with just a single bar of introduction which is much more dramatically effective.

    He rewrote the original setting of ‘But who may abide the day of His coming’, a bass air in D minor, as a bass recitative. This is what Mr Mason sang.

    He altered and shortened ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion’. which was originally a da capo aria (ABA) with a very long A section which lacked coherence in its last half; he cancelled, expunging the da capo instruction and used the cancelled material rewritten as a concluding section. In 12/8 time.

    He transposed ‘If God be for us’, from G minor into C minor, so that it could be sung by Mrs Cibber.

  • FYI did you guys know “Rejoice!” was originally a tenor aria, and the duet “He shall feed His flock” was originally a contralto aria!

    • Rejoice greatly was originally 12/8, later he revised it to 4/4 after 1745. He shall feed his flock was an alto and soprano duet, he later returned to the Soprano version in London from about 1745.
      He never performed the autograph score it was modified to accommodate singers and instruments.

      In 1749 he employed a larger body of strings, in 1750 he rewrote “But who may abide for the Alto castrato Guadagni, this was later recast for soprano in a minor for the 1754 Foundling Hospital, a tone up from the earlier one in g minor.
      In 1751 he performed Messiah with all male soloists no female opera singers, just Chapel Royal choir.

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