Christmas has its big pieces of music, including Handel's oratorio, Messiah.
But a substantial portion of the work, including its most famous chorus, is devoted to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, celebrated on Easter. Even so, Messiah is so firmly associated with Christmas that most music directors won't consider programming it out of season.
That leaves Easter without a signature musical work, but Friday night, conductor Jeremy Mulholland is offering a suggestion: Théodore Dubois' 1867 oratorio The Seven Last Words of Christ.
"It's beautiful in two ways," Mulholland says. "If you are a Christian believer, it really fleshes out the time that Christ spent on the cross and the words that he said, the phrases that he said. It's a very dramatic depiction of Jesus on the cross.
"And then, just on a musical level, the solos both from the vocalists and the orchestral soloists — there's an oboe, solo clarinet, horn solos — ... the melodic writing of Dubois is rich and romantic and gorgeous."
The audience that comes to see Mulholland conduct the Lexington Community Orchestra and choirs from First Presbyterian, Hunter Presbyterian, Wesley United Methodist and Calvary Baptist churches will have a rare chance to hear Seven Last Words in all its gorgeousness.
Mulholland points out that most performances of the piece use an organ reduction or small orchestra because they are presented by churches that don't have the resources to put on a fully-realized rendition of Dubois' work. But he realized that as director of the community orchestra, he did.
As the orchestra director at Eastern Kentucky University, he says he needs to pick pieces that will be good educational experiences for the students. Directing the community orchestra, an all-volunteer ensemble, he wants to make sure he programs pieces the musicians want to hear and will enjoy.
It was about Christmas that he decided it might be time to indulge a craving for Seven Last Words. When he started talking to other music leaders in Lexington, he found other fans of the piece.
Mulholland first contacted First Presbyterian Church choir director and Kentucky Bach Choir director Marlon Hurst, who immediately got on board and told him Cliff Jackson at Wesley United Methodist and Jason Brown at Hunter Presbyterian had already been talking about presenting the piece.
"Both of them jumped on board, because originally they were just going to do it with an organ reduction," Mulholland says. The search for a venue brought Calvary, which hosted one of the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra's Messiah performances in 2011 and is routinely a venue for other groups, into the game.
Mulholland points out that the choir will be about 115 voices and a cross-denominational ensemble of Baptists, Presbyterians and Methodists, as well as local soloists including Daniel Koehn.
Mulholland says the scheduling of Good Friday was somewhat coincidental, that it's just turned out to be the best date for all involved. He notes that the Community Orchestra is not a religious organization, though this performance will have many of the trappings of a religious event.
"It is a concert setting," Mulholland says, "but it is Good Friday, it is church choirs, et cetera, et cetera. I have no doubt that it's going to be a worshipful experience."
IF YOU GO
'The Seven Last Words of Christ'
What: Théodore Dubois' oratorio performed by the Lexington Community Orchestra, the choirs of First Presbyterian, Hunter Presbyterian, Wesley United Methodist and Calvary Baptist churches with soloists Daniel Koehn, Virginia Bowles and Jermaine Brown, all conducted by Jeremy Mulholland.
When: 7:30 p.m. March 29
Where: Calvary Baptist Church, 150 E. High St.
Learn more: Lexingtoncommunityorchestra.intuitwebsites.com