Archive for September, 2009

BBC Proms: Handel’s Messiah gets a facelift.

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

When you think of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ you instantly conjure up images of staid choirs made up of bosomy church ladies and tuxedoed middle-aged men. That’s your suburban production of Messiah and we all know of one. I have had the experience of listening to a Messiah of which even Handel himself would be astonished. Handel in the hands of the young.

On the 250th anniversary of the great composer’s death, BBC Prom 68 on Sunday night  (6th Sept) was awe-inspiring and just plain bloody brilliant. Handel specialist, Nicholas McGegan, conducted a massed choir of young singers – young voices – from around the United Kingdom under the direction of choral specialist Simon Halsey. What this man does not know about choral singing is not worth knowing and on Sunday night the audience was treated to the most refreshing and vibrant Messiah ever produced. What better way to celebrate the 250th anniversary of this landmark piece than by taking it out of the domain of the traditional and placing it in the hands of several youth choirs: The National Youth Choirs of Great Britain and Wales and youth choirs from Birmingham, Manchester, Gateshead, Scunthorpe and the Royal School of Church Music.

There is no ‘authentic’ Messiah – no blueprint. Handel took free license with his own work, conducted it himself often and adapted each performance to the voices and instruments available to him at the time. For this performance Nicholas McGegan had brilliant material to work with and the result was sheer magic, Handel’s Messiah as it should be – big and loud.

When those young voices burst in with “And the Glory of the Lord” you just knew that this performance would be something extra special –  those young voices were simply magnificent in a way which was both exciting and surprising. For the Royal Albert Hall no production of the Messiah should be on polite terms – this was a massed effort with trumpets blazing and the thrill and resounding authority of the mighty Albert Hall organ.

And yes, true to tradition, the audience rose to their feet for the Hallelujah Chorus just as George II did back in 1743 although to this day it is not clear just why the King stood at that point. Just choose your favourite theory and go with that 🙂

Treat yourself to a repeat performance here: