The Lexington Philharmonic performed George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” at Christmastime for more than 40 years, and conductor and music director Scott Terrell decided it was time for a change.
“You can hang onto tradition just to hang on, or you can just start to make changes,” he said.
So the philharmonic won’t perform “Messiah” this Christmas season at all.
Instead, it has teamed with two choral groups, two acclaimed vocalists and a virtuoso organist to dip into the wealth of beautiful liturgical Christmas music that doesn’t get played much because everyone is so focused on “Messiah.”
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It’s it’s a fresh take on timeless music, including John Rutter’s “Gloria,” Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on Greensleeves,” and vocal and instrumental works by Johann Sebastian Bach and Gerald Finzi.
We are going to be utilizing very different sounds that we haven’t done in the past.
Scott Terrell, Lexington Philharmonic music director
“All the music we are doing will render itself quite beautifully in this sanctuary,” Terrell said of the concert, which will be at the Cathedral of Christ the King. He said the program is “a lot of the music you would hear at King’s College at the University of Cambridge in England — a very iconic English sound, which will work quite well in Christ the King.”
Performing with the philharmonic will be the Lexington Chamber Chorale, directed by Gary Anderson, the ECCO Chamber Choir from Asbury University, led by Vicki Bell, and organist Jon Johnson.
Soloists will be baritone Jarrett Ott and soprano Sarah Shafer. Ott is a versatile singer who sings in musicals and opera, and he was recently named one of 25 rising stars by Opera News magazine. Shafer is scheduled to perform this season with the San Francisco Opera and Opera Philadelphia. Opera News praised her as “artistically mature” and “a singer to watch.”
Of Ott and Shafer, Terrell said, “These two soloists are two of the finest singers I’ve ever brought in.”
Bell said her students were excited to collaborate with the philharmonic on works that are musically challenging and different from what they normally do.
“We focus on sacred choral music from the Renaissance,” she said. “Most of the selections for Saturday night’s concert are new to us. We’ve drilled notes and rhythms for the past couple of months.”
Saturday’s concert will be “one of the most interesting programs we have ever done,” said Terrell, who is in his eighth year with the philharmonic.
“We are going to be utilizing very different sounds that we haven’t done in the past,” he said.
His goal was pure sonic variety — brass, organ, strings and harp, or just the choruses. Johnson, organist at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, will be featured in a work with brass from the philharmonic and two choruses. Other selections will be only strings and harps.
“People can hear just how diverse music is in creating the season,” he said.
When you make a beautiful sound in the room, the room rewards you by letting the sound reverberate.
Scott Terrell on performing in the Cathedral of Christ the King
The concert is called “A Cathedral Christmas” to reflect the music of the season, and to acknowledge the cathedral and its extraordinary acoustics, Terrell said.
The philharmonic’s last six Christmas concerts have been at Christ the King. The audience had “a little trepidation the first year or two, but now they know, phonically, it is going to sound so magnificent that it’s allowed us to make program changes,” he said.
Performers look forward to the cathedral because it is a space that gives back. “When you make a beautiful sound in the room, the room rewards you by letting the sound reverberate. It’s a real purity of sound — a place where the human voice carries very well,” he said.
All previous programs had been “Messiah” or contained a portion of the oratorio. This is the first year the Philharmonic has not touched Handel’s masterpiece, though there are several other “Messiah” performances in Lexington this holiday season, including the Lexington Singers, Friday night.
Terrell didn’t say the philharmonic won’t come back to the “Messiah” sometime in the future, but “we’re taking a year off to do other Christmas music, of which there is beyond a bucket’s worth.”
Beverly Fortune: firstname.lastname@example.org.