Each year, a group of us from Priestfield Church head for the Usher Hall in Edinburgh on 2 January to hear a performance of Handel’s classic Oratorio The Messiah. It’s always an enjoyable occasion, but none better than today. Usually if there are last minute changes to the personnel the standard might drop, but having the very talented Chorusmaster Michael Bawtree take over as Conductor ensured that the Chorus gave of their best.
While at least three of the soloists do not have really powerful voices, they all have delightful voices, but, for me, even more importantly they not only sang the words, they played the parts they were singing. And very movingly at times – none more so than Madeleine Shaw’s rendition of ‘He was despised.’ Indeed it seemed that as she sat down she herself was fighting back the tears along with the audience.
Interestingly, later at home we were watching a programme by Dara O’Briain on the science and emotion of music. Many parts of the brain light up when we hear music we like and which touches us emotionally. There were lots of brains lighting up today and personally I had goose bumps (as I always do) when the Chorus got to ‘Wonderful, Counsellor….’ I think we shall hear it on Sunday before the service begins!
Past experience of performances include the scars of trumpeters playing bum notes at important places. No longer. The second part concluded with an outstanding (no pun intended) Hallelujah Chorus received with rapturous applause with both performance and appreciation lifting the spirit. And the trumpets were just as good in ‘The trumpet will sound.’
The Messiah has been performed countless times since its first in Dublin in 1742. Each year as I read through the words again I feel their power to shed light on the work of Jesus, whose name is never mentioned. Picture after picture explodes in the imagination from one part of Scripture after another.
I confess I have never been a fan of the ‘Amen,’ that is until today. The variation in tone and volume drawn out by the Conductor turned it into a stunning climax to one of the deepest spiritual musical experiences of recent years for me. I’m glad that I don’t expect to hear another performance of The Messiah until this time next year. One shouldn’t seek to repeat this too often!