Arthur Kaptainis, Ludwig Van Toronto.
In the age of sexed-up and dumbed-down Messiahs, it is good to be reminded how utterly self-refreshing Handel’s masterpiece is when addressed by the right personnel under a conductor with something to say. Such were the conditions that prevailed Monday in Roy Thomson Hall, where Matthew Halls led the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and a crack quartet of Canadian soloists in through a performance that could fairly be called electrifying.
John Terauds, Toronto Star. No one expects a stopgap to turn into a masterpiece. But that’s what happened to George Frideric Handel when one of his collaborators, Charles Jennens, handed him some texts to set to music.
Messiah has, since its premiere in Dublin at Easter time 275 years ago, become one of the best-loved pieces of classical music in the English-speaking world. Toronto is no exception, becoming a virtual shrine to Messiah at this time every year.
The city’s two flagship orchestras — the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on modern instruments, and Tafelmusik Orchestra on historical ones — present multiple performances every December. The two-hour oratorio, either in part or whole, is also heard in churches, cathedrals, schools and community concerts from the city core to rural villages.
Dave Richards, Toronto Concert Reviews.
For the eighteenth consecutive year, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir has begun its hectic December schedule of performances with its Festival of Carols. The cathedral-like Yorkminster Park Baptist Church was festooned with twenty-five foot high Christmas trees at either side of the chancel, lit with thousands of sparkling lights. The sounds of the TMC, organist David Briggs, the Canadian Staff Band of the Salvation Army, and the Canadian Children’s Opera Company was glorious. This was indeed the beginning of a month of great music, celebration and festivities.
From the opening bars of Bob Chilcott’s arrangement of the Sussex Carol, the energy of the choir’s rhythmically charged singing was joyfully uplifting.
Liz Parker, Classical 96.3 Blog.
Q: The holidays can be a lot of fun for the fans who love to be entertained – but it’s a lot of fatigue for the performers. What is the hardest thing about performing over the holidays? Be honest.
Noel: To be honest, I actually enjoy performing over the holiday season. When you conduct so many choirs, there is so much variety in what you are doing, you never get bored! Now, all the programming that has to happen in October ….that’s tedious!
“The typical carol gives voice to the common emotions of healthy people in language that can be understood, and music that can be shared by all.” Percy Dearmer (1867-1936)
The singing of Christmas songs and carols with music for brass instruments goes hand-in-hand – like mistletoe and eggnog, or turkey and cranberry sauce. Christmas carols date back to pagan times, originally used to mark the end of one season and the start of the next. As Christianity grew, carols gradually developed a link to the birth of Jesus, but the association to paganism remained in the shadows and the singing of carols was prohibited at times. In the 19th century, the Victorians reinvented Christmas as a sentimental festival of good cheer with families and friends and the carol enjoyed a renaissance. Many new carols and songs, in a pseudo-traditional style were written, and there was a conscious shift from the nativity story to a focus on the more secular, festive pleasures of Christmas like the winter solstice, eating, drinking and Santa Claus. By the end of the 19th century, small English parish churches began the Christmas Eve practice of lessons, prayers and a short sermon mingled with a variety of carols. It was later expanded to a festival of nine lessons and carols, made popular around the world in the 20th century by King’s College, Cambridge in England.