Handel’s Messiah by the Philadelphia Orchestra Inspires Us for a New Year

Although retired since 2014, I still relish opportunities to teach, write, and share opinions.
The Philadelphia Orchestra presented Handel’s Messiah at Verizon Hall on December 20 and 21, 2023.
George Friderich Handel (1685-1759) needs no introduction, for he is one of the Western World’s great composers. His Anthems, Operas, Oratorios, and much more are regularly played. His Oratorio Messiah, first performed in London in 1743, caused a scandal. It was considered highly improper, taking the life of Christ as the subject of a musical entertainment. Over the years, Messiah has proven itself as a pious and altogether worthy musical experience. These performances by The Philadelphia Orchestra proves its musical and dramatic worth and beauty. 
An amazing coincidence presented itself to the concertgoers of Philadelphia, Princeton, and environs. The conductor and two of the soloists appeared in Messiah at both cities within days of each other. The distinguished conductor Nicholas McGegan led the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra at Richardson Auditorium at Princeton University, followed only days later by the same conductor leading Messiah with The Philadelphia Orchestra at Verizon Hall with the same soprano and tenor soloists.   What a daunting task to discuss the sublime Messiah a second time. What a unique experience to hear the same conductor and similar soloists at two different orchestras at two different venues only days apart. But, we shall.
Nicholas McGegan is a famed Baroque and Classical music expert having conducted at The Royal Opera, Covent Garden, The BBC Proms, and the Symphony Orchestras of Los Angeles, Cleveland, Detroit, and many others, with over 100 recordings, 50 alone with music by Handel. Handel at both venues was in capable and talented hands. 
Soprano Sherezade Panthaki is well-known as an early-music specialist who often sings with Maestro McGegan. Her thrilling bel canto range appears to be completely effortless, dispatching Handel’s ornamentations with aplomb. 
Tenor Thomas Cooley repeats his triumph in Princeton here at Verizon Hall. His artistry is expressive, intimate, yet capable of virtuosity when required. Mr. Cooley also often performs under Mr. McGegan’s baton.
Countertenor Reginald Mobley finely acquitted himself in his many solos and duets with beauty of tone, and phenomenal breath control. 
Bass-baritone Dashon Burton has been celebrated for many years as a fine artist and soloist with many of the leading orchestras and conductors of today. He appears with Michael Tilson Thomas, the San Francisco Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, Houston Symphony, New York Philharmonic, as well as with the eponymous starring role in the musical Sweeney Todd. I first saw Mr. Burton years ago at Drew University in recital, then again shortly before the Covid Pandemic in Messiah when he appeared with the New Jersey Symphony in Newark, NJ. His excellence as an artist is also evident by him being awarded two Grammy Awards. 
The Philadelphia Orchestra played beautifully and sensitively to every indication by the conductor. The Philadelphia Symphonic choir, under Joe Miller, Director, provided all things necessary for a great performance, from hushed awe, to declamatory splendor. Avi Stein served admirably on keyboard. 
This performance of Messiah was especially enthralling for many members of the audience. For them, they were, like Jonah, in the vast belly of Leviathan, otherwise known as Verizon Hall, where they were cleansed of their sins by the clouds of frankincense created by Handel before being vomited out onto the sidewalks of Avenue of the Arts. They could not forget the words of Psalm 2:9-11 (KJV):
“Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. Be wise now, therefore, O ye kings: Be instructed, ye judges of the Earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”
Members of the audience thought immediately of the genocidal dictator Vladimir Putin and of his murdering people. Even though 300,000 Russian soldiers have already died in the genocidal extermination of the Ukrainian people, they persist, as do the nations of Africa who imprison and threaten to murder gay men. Poland is still the worst country to be gay in the EU, according to published reports. So many other peoples are also oppressed by war and civil unrest, giving contemporary meaning to these words set so thrillingly by Handel in his masterful oratorio Messiah.
For information and tickets to future performances of The Philadelphia Orchestra, visit: www.philorch.org . 
For telephone inquiries, call 215-893-1999.

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