Messiah Follies: Inside Stories About Performing Handel’s Ultimate Masterpiece

Brian Chang, Musical Toronto

Handel’s Messiah is a masterwork of remarkable writing that has lasted centuries of performance. This work is a staple of the Holiday season, and chances are you will catch a performance of it in full or selections from it over the course of the holiday. Between the Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra/Tafelmusik Chamber Choir alone, 15,000 people will hear and experience the music over a two week period.

Much can be said about the love-hate relationship of Choristers, musicians, and conductors and the work. Today, we’re going to explore stories of musicians who have performed the work and when things have just gone off the rails. These are stories of Messiah Follies:

Hilary Apfelstadt: Director of Choral Activities, University of Toronto

Messiahs: Countless

Hilary Apfelstadt has conducted many performances all throughout North America of Messiah. One particular community chorus and orchestra performance stands out to her. Many local groups have “star” soloists that have just always sung certain parts. The tenor in this case had passed his best-before date. After rehearsing, it was clear that he would take his arias at his own pace and his own rhythm regardless of her baton or even what was in the music. He’d never learned to read rhythms properly; he’d just always sung the tenor part in Messiah. Hillary prepared to make the adjustments only to start the actual performance and find that he was doing something else completely different. Truly, “once in a lifetime”!

Marlo Alcock & Steve Szmutni, and several others: Toronto Mendelssohn Choir

Messiahs: Hundreds

This is a Toronto Mendelssohn Choir story that was pieced together from several Choristers. One year, a couple, man and woman, were having an argument near the stage of Roy Thomson Hall. Just going at it, they were clearly audible to the audience and musicians. The Principal Cellist put down his Cello, leaned over to the couple and asked them to leave. The man leaves while the woman sits there and refuses to go. She proceeds to watch the performance radiating a great air of irritation. She eventually got bored and left. Choristers, speaking to ushers later, discovered the man had left cab fare with an usher to give to the woman for her return home. That poor usher got yelled out by the woman for giving it to her after the performance.

Read more amusing stories in the full article on Musical Toronto.