Monday, April 14, 2014

Handel’s Messiah, Palm Sunday, April 13, 2014, at Cathedral of Christ The Light, Oakland

It’s hard to follow the Messiah without a program, especially when it starts at 21. "His Yoke is Easy, and His Burthen is Light." When I asked for a program when I entered and was told there was none, yet saw lots of people in the audience with programs—I thought, perhaps they’d attended Oakland East Bay Symphony’s Notes from India last month and kept the program. I still had mine and would have brought it, if I’d known before there would be none at the concert that afternoon.

I looked up The Messiah on my phone as I listened and read a synopsis of Part 1 and then Part 2. I tried to guess where we were, but it wasn’t until 44. “Hallelujah!” when the entire audience stood then joined in with the guest soloists and Oakland East Bay Symphony Chorus to sing that I knew where we were.

As I watched the conductor, Dr. Morrow, do her thing so well—arms often in the air as she looked at the chorus to the left or right or rear of the magnificent cathedral—often performing a variety of these moves simultaneously, I was swept away by the lovely voices and musicality of Handel's work.

Lost, I wished there were supertitles so I could follow along. Everyone knows one cannot always figure out lyrical content; however, I have to say that whenever the chorus sang I could make out the words—I don’t know why; however in Part Three, all was clear—especially soprano Shawnette Sulker’s 45:“I know that my Redeemer liverth” and 52. “If God be for us, who can be against us?”   Baritone, Zachary Gordon’s 47. “Behold, I tell you a mystery” and 48. “The trumpet shall sound” was also wonderful as were all of Gordon’s dramatically assessable solos. His vocal range almost made up for the missed trumpet—

The other two guest soloists, Darron Flagg (tenor) and Amy Bouchard (Mezzo-Soprano) were equally skilled and delightful in their duet, 50. “O Death, where is thy sting?”

The small OEBS orchestra was intimate. I moved closer towards the front of the cathedral on Hallelujah and sat on the front row where I could see the musicians—it was really lovely how the violinists and organist, Rudy de Vos, responded to the text and to the soloists, often going instrumentally into more specifics about the stanza just before or just to follow. All the voices at the same key of pitch.

The closing choral “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain” was splendid. Loved the way the piece, handled remarkably by concert mistress, Dr. Lynne Morrow, showed off in the finale the wonderful voices in the Chorus. We were sitting near the sopranos, but all the sections (3) were at the height of their craft. Everyone was smiling as we wondered—perhaps I should say, I wondered, how many literal amen choruses would there be before the end, not that I was complaining (smile). 
Though an Easter concert, it is more often performed in December around the Christmas holidays. I am going to look for a sing-along Messiah this December and practice in the meantime. The cathedral wasn’t full, but the audience filled the room.  It is not every day that one sees a black woman leading a symphony chorus.
At the Paramount Theatre in Oakland in a bit more than a month, Friday, May 16, 2014, 8 p.m. the Oakland East Bay Symphony with the Oakland Symphony Chorus with special guest Thomas Glenn (tenor), will perform the Anniversary Season Finale: Berlioz Requiem. 

Listen to an interview with the Music Director, Lynne Morrow, on Wanda's Picks, April 11, 2014. She is on at 9:30 a.m.


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