Posted by: Jeff | December 22, 2010

Handel’s “Messiah”

Picture taken from The Washington Post

This holiday season I had the opportunity to attend “Messiah”, George Friedrich Handel’s most famous oratorio, at the National Cathedral in Washington.  I’d never seen opera or oratorio live, and had always wanted to hear this particular piece, made famous for the instantly-recognizable Hallelujah Chorus.  In addition, I’d never actually been inside the National Cathedral, so this opportunity was one well worth taking.

As one might expect, the music was gorgeous, and the unamplified sound within the Cathedral sounded magnificent as it echoed through the enormous chamber.  Though our seats were near the very back of the nave, the sound was pure.  I’ve never sat in a more respectful audience – during the entire piece, very few voices muttered, and only a handful left the seating area to leave early or use the restroom.

It was a wonderful experience, and lent me a new appreciation for the operatic style and Handel’s composition.  I left wanting to learn more about the classical music scene, and cognizant of false assumptions.  Beyond the difference in dress code from a more typical concert I might attend – hoodies traded in for a tie and jacket – the length of the performance was surprising.  Going in, I assumed Handel’s entire “Messiah” ran for an hour or an hour and a half – a pretty typical set time for most concerts I attend.

This particular performance ran much closer to three hours.  The quality of the piece and the performance made for a thoroughly enjoying three hours, but I have to admit to being taken aback by the duration.  I fully expected the Hallelujah Chorus to start an hour and a half into the evening – and it did.  What I didn’t expect was that the Chorus is not the end of the “Messiah” – in fact, there is an entire act to follow!  As the audience solemnly re-took their seats after standing for the Chorus (a tradition, apparently, started by King George II), I realized just how unfamiliar I am with classical.  All in all, it was a wonderful prelude to the Christmas season, and a stunning performance well worth remembering.


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