Toronto theatres offer three unique versions of Handel’s Messiah

Robert Harris, The Globe and Mail

Sir Andrew Davis is perhaps the leading British conductor of his generation. So one might expect that he has made George Frederick Handel’s Messiah, perhaps the most famous piece of British music ever composed, something of a party piece, leading it time and time again.

But, as is usual with everything to do with Handel’s quixotic and ultimately mysterious oratorio, that is not at all the case. Davis has conducted Messiahexactly three times in his career. And all three occasions were in Toronto. He has never conducted the piece anywhere else. His first performance was in the mid-1980s, which resulted in a famed recording; he conducted it once again in the 1990s; then again in 2010. His fourth time ever will be next week, again with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Except that Davis is not just conducting the Messiah next week. He has rewritten it.

Davis’s Messiah will be one of three quite different versions of the perennial favourite presented in Toronto next week, a bit shy of the 20 or so in the New York metropolitan area that the unfortunate junior critic for the New York Times is routinely assigned to review every season, but quite a bouquet nonetheless. The three Messiahs show the extreme versatility and adaptability of this amazing work, which has been pushed and pulled into innumerable, sometimes unrecognizable shapes over its two-and-a-half-century existence, but which manages to escape whole and healthy every time. It will do so again this season. Along with the TSO/Davis Messiah will be Tafelmusik’s historically informed version at Koerner Hall, and a staged adaptation presented by the engaging and creative Against the Grain company. Enough Messiahs to warm your heart and pique your curiosity.

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