Listening to music in a live performance can be like listening to music for the first time. In a live performance, especially in a good concert space, there is three dimensionality of a kind that recorded music and the best technology cannot replicate. I’ve listened to Handel’s The Messiah on and off for forty years. I associate it with Christmas, though only the first section concerns the nativity. I’ve used Easter as an excuse to listen as well, although only the second section concerns crucifixion and resurrection. I’ve listened to The Messiah in its entirety on a few occasions, but most often I have listened only to parts that I particularly enjoy, especially the choral sections. Rarely when I’ve listened to recordings of The Messiah has it held my whole attention. More often it’s played in the background. At a concert, the music commands your attention, and as you listen, especially if the performance is a good one, you hear and appreciate and understand in a new way.
In the December 21st performance of the UGA Hodgson Singers with the Knights Chamber Orchestra and four soloists, I heard The Messiah in live performance for the first time. It was stirring, moving, inspiring, and deeply emotional. The Hodgson Singers consisted mostly, if not entirely, of young singers, undergraduates and graduates. Their voices gave a purity and aery grace to Handel’s music. Voices flowed back and forth across the hall, responding to, answering one another, male voices and female voices, sopranos and basses, together and separately. The music filled the hall. You could feel it all around you, in front and behind of you, enveloping, enlarging the room. It was enrapturing.
One misses in recorded performances the faces and the physical presence of the performers. No recording could convey the passion and intensity in the faces of the Hodgson Singers as they performed. You could see the satisfaction of the members of the Knights ensemble. All the performers seemed to enjoy the occasion.
Soloist Reginald Mobley, a countertenor, sang the alto sections. He is a big, burly man, and to hear him singing in an alto voice was a revelation. Soprano Molly Quinn was astoundingly good. The Knights ensemble played with a passionate precision. Someone told me that some members of the ensemble, composed mostly of musicians in their 20s and 30s, had never played The Messiah before, but there was no sign of unfamiliarity in their performance.
The experience was a celebration of great music, of Handel, of youth. Congratulations to conductor Dan Bara, the Hodgson singers, the Knights, and the four excellent soloists.