Handel’s Messiah, an acclaimed masterpiece composed in 1741, captures the beauty of time. Performing Messiah near the holiday season became a tradition in the 18th century, and Ann Arbor’s University Musical Society (UMS) followed in suit with this treasured Christmas tradition beginning in 1879. To listen to the melodies that have been enrapturing audiences for centuries enkindled in me a sense of wonderment. It was surreal to be a part of something so marvelously timeless. This is a cultural experience every student must have.
Hill Auditorium, the setting for the evening’s performance, was impeccable. The auditorium alone is beautiful with its intricate architecture, lighting, and gold accents. Even more, last night the venue was adorned in poinsettias reaching from one side of the stage to the other as a giant Christmas wreath hung above the heads of the Choral Union.
The male soloists that introduced the oratorio possessed powerful voices that resonated throughout the auditorium. Messiah opened with melismatic and operatic musical pieces. I was captivated by watching the vocalists because it appeared as if they were employing every part of their bodies to produce such sounds. I was impressed by their ability to stay on pitch despite the profusion of complex note changes, but they stood grounded with their posture and prowess.
The orchestra sounded exactly how you would imagine it to sound in your head. Constituted of nothing less than accomplished players, their musicianship was controlled and influential. You can likely conceptualize the image now: an expressive conductor directing the volume and timing of the strings of the violins, then turning his body towards the stand-up basses as they add another layer of depth to the music.
Perhaps the most-anticipated component of Handel’s Messiah, the “Hallelujah” chorus, proved to be miraculous in every way. Only ever having heard it in brief segments during movie clips or comedy skits, I yearned to hear the piece in its entirety. To conclude the second part, the audience stood and sang along with the Choral Union and the venue filled with the sounds of joy. I now recognize why Handel’s Messiah is and continues to be a timeless tradition. It reminds us of peace and of faith.