On November 23, San José Symphonic Choir will step back into the 18th century to present Georg Frideric Handel’s Messiah, performed in full and conducted by Music Director Leroy Kromm with the San José Baroque Orchestra playing instruments from Handel’s time.
The performance begins at 7:30 pm, at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 13601 Saratoga Avenue, Saratoga.
Messiah’s stunning first performance was on April 13, 1742. Handel was already so famous that the audience was urged to leave their hoop skirts and swords at home to make more room in Dublin’s Great Music Hall. A record 700 people attended the performance. After a sneak peek at the dress rehearsal the night before, excited newspapers reported that the oratorio “far surpasses anything of that Nature, which has been performed in this or any other Kingdom.” What a great start to what is probably the most-performed piece of classical music in the world!
Originally premiering as an Easter piece, since the 19th century, Messiah has usually been performed in the Christmas season. It deals equally with both subjects and is a carefully crafted and shaped portrait of the life of Jesus, beginning with the prophecy of his coming, and continuing through his birth, death, and resurrection. The creator of the libretto was Charles Jennens, a close friend and collaborator with Handel.
Messiah is the stuff of legend. The most intriguing legend surrounds King George II of England, who attended a London performance. Apparently, he was so overcome with emotion during the powerful Hallelujah Chorus that he rose to his feet. Of course, when the King stands, everybody stands, so the entire hall rose for the duration of the song. Ever since, in performance venues both religious and secular, there has been a tradition of standing during the Hallelujah Chorus. People do not always stand today, but when they do, they are carrying on a long tradition.
It is likely that Handel never imagined his Messiah would become as popular as it has today, 277 years later, but to him it was always a favorite. His annual benefit concerts for his preferred charity — London’s Foundling Hospital, a home for abandoned and orphaned children — always included portions of Messiah.
Handel died at home, a respected and rich man. His funeral was given full state honors, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey in London.
In 1823, Beethoven, referring to Messiah, proclaimed Handel to be the “greatest composer that ever lived.”
Tickets are sold in advance and at the door. Youth 12 and under are free. For more information, or to purchase tickets, please visit www.sanjosesymphonicchoir.org.