To hear or even sing in Handel’s “Messiah” has become a tradition for many at holiday time. This coming week there are two chances to attend a performance: Tuesday with the Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys at the Cathedral of All-Saints and Sunday, Dec. 11 with the Octavo Singers at Union College’s Memorial Chapel.
Both groups are doing the entire work, which will be sung in English.
Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: Cathedral of All Saints, 62 South Swan St., Albany
HOW MUCH: $25, $20, $15, $10(12 and under)
MORE INFO: 465-1342; www.thecathedralofallsaints.org
WHEN: 3 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 11
WHERE: Union College Memorial Chapel
HOW MUCH: $25, $20, $15, free (11 and under)
MORE INFO: 253-7088; www.octavosingers.com
“We’ll be using a 17-piece period instrument orchestra,” said Woodrow Bynum, the director of the Cathedral Choir and the evening’s conductor. “They’re mostly from the Boston area and many play with the Handel and Haydn Society. The instrumental parts are demanding but these are top Baroque players and their level of artistry on these instruments is remarkable. They come every year because they love to play this gig.”
The choir is the reason. The members, who were all chosen after audition, include 14 men and 15 boys between ages 7 and 15.
“They love to observe how the boys work and enjoy their level of artistry and the depth of their musical understanding,” Bynum said. “They may be kids but they’re working at a professional concert level. I’m always recruiting new trebles. There is an expiration day with boy sopranos, so I like to hear any boy who likes to sing and is interested in music.”
Beyond talent, though, the children must have a large work ethic, as the choir sings a different Mass setting and various psalms each week.
“We meet twice a week,” he said. “But it’s a challenge with ‘Messiah’ because I can’t assume the boys have ever sung it before. So I talk a lot about the text. Having these nimble forces gives a life and vitality to the piece because it’s a different ballet with a large orchestra.”
His soloists will be soprano Sarah Brailey, alto Emily Marvosh, tenor Jonas Budris and bass Nathaniel Webster.
The annual performance generally attracts up to 650 people.
“Some come for the ‘Messiah’ tradition, others know from past experience and others just to hear such a masterpiece,” Bynum said. “The church is also a beloved space in the Capital District. With its superb acoustics, it becomes an ethereal place where the sound takes on another dimension.”
A different sound
The notes will be the same, but Octavo’s “Messiah” will sound different.
“We’re using a 22-piece orchestra on modern instruments,” said Curtis Funk, artistic director. “And our chorus will swell to 120 voices from our regular 100.”
His soloists will be soprano Jean Leonard, alto Ann Marie Adamick, tenor John Spinelli, and bass Woodrow Bynum.
Most of his chorus has sung “Messiah,” since Octavo has been doing it almost every year since the 1940s. But with larger forces there are challenges.
“We must work at keeping brisk tempos,” Funk said. “The orchestra is tight so we get there but with so many voices it tends to drag. Melismas [singing one syllable over as many as 32 notes] are always a challenge to move in and out of the notes.”
The Memorial Chapel setup, which has the chorus on stage and the orchestra at pew level below the stage, puts Funk almost 25 feet away from the chorus.
“I feel they’re in another ZIP code,” he said laughing.
Still, to sing this work that Handel composed in 24 days and was premiered in 1741 to benefit three Dublin charities is thrilling stuff.
“It’s always an experience to put it on,” Funk said.