Performing arts groups usually approach the Christmas season in logical ways that speak to their specific talents: ballet companies present “The Nutcracker,” theater companies stage “A Christmas Carol” and symphony orchestras herald the season with their finest orchestral charts.
Choral organizations also have a wealth of music from which to choose: cantatas by Bach and Honegger, glorias by Vivaldi and Poulenc, oratorios by Berlioz and Saint-Saens and occasional works such as Britten's “A Ceremony of Carols.”
Perhaps nothing puts audiences in a festive mood like Handel's “Messiah,” a multi-movement work that has remained popular since its Dublin debut in 1742. Canterbury Choral Society will perform the Christmas portion of “Messiah” along with Bach's “Magnificat” for a program titled “A Baroque Christmas.”
“For a few years, we had a ‘Messiah' singalong at Oklahoma City University where we'd invite singers to bring their own scores,” said Canterbury artistic director Randi Von Ellefson. “I did ‘Messiah' with Canterbury two years ago but we decided to program it again this year because we got so many requests from patrons.”
Completed in just 24 days, “Messiah” relates the story of the birth of Christ, his crucifixion and the resurrection. A mix of instrumental passages, vocal solos and choruses, “Messiah” has always enjoyed a broad appeal, with favorites ranging from “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion,” “For unto us a child is born” and “Glory to God in the highest” to “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” “The trumpet shall sound” and the “Hallelujah Chorus.”
“I always choose some of the favorite choruses from the Christmas section and then try to supplement those with excerpts that make sure all of the sections (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) are well represented,” Ellefson said. “We'll do about 20 passages altogether.”
Bach's “Magnificat” dates from 1723 and contains a dozen movements that were written for Christmas Vespers. The text is based on Mary's reaction to news from the angel Gabriel that she will give birth to a Savior.
“It's very festive so it's often done at Christmas, Pentecost and other festival occasions,” Ellefson said. “I did it in Chicago and Spokane but this is my first time to do it with Canterbury. Bach was concerned that his music say something directly to his congregation so he did a lot of teaching and preaching with his music.
“I think the ‘Magnificat' and ‘Messiah' will complement each other in terms that one is very familiar and the other will offer a new listening adventure.”
Joining Canterbury for this “Baroque Christmas” concert are members of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and featured soloists Kelly Holst (soprano), Rebecca Ambrosini (mezzo-soprano), Jeffrey Picon (tenor) and Kevin Eckard (bass). A holiday reception in the Civic Center lobby will follow the performance.