The Old Pueblo's Holiday Concert Schedule Is Music To The Ears.
By Dave Irwin
ONCE THE CHRISTMAS tree lots start popping up, it's a safe bet that the sounds of George Frederic Handel's Messiah aren't far away. The Messiah is the most-sung piece of classical music in the world, with thousands of performances each Christmas. However, the work that defines the holidays for so many was initially a controversial flop, and didn't become popular until Handel gave it away as a fundraiser for London's bastards.
Tucson Sing-In, Inc. will present the 22nd-annual Community Messiah Sing-In on Monday, December 7, at Grace Chapel, 6180 E. Pima St. A Christmas carol warm-up begins at 7 p.m., with the performance--featuring a 24-piece orchestra and more than 1,000 walk-ons--beginning at 7:30 p.m. Participants may bring their own musical score, purchase one for $10, or rent one for $5, plus a $5 deposit. The event is free, although donations are accepted. Call 745-6054 for more information.
The Catalina Chamber Orchestra and Chorus will present selections from The Messiah in its holiday concert, as well. The matinee performance on Saturday, December 19, begins at 3 p.m. in the Catalina United Methodist Church, 2700 E. Speedway. The Sunday, December 20, performance will be at 3 p.m. in the Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway. Tickets are $15 general, $8 for students. For more information, call 624-0170.
Snippets from The Messiah will also turn up in holiday concerts by the Civic Orchestra of Tucson and the UA Community Chorus, among others.
The Messiah had a checkered history before it became the classical equivalent of Stairway to Heaven. The entire epic was dashed off in just 24 days. The full work is not particularly focused on the Nativity, so most people today only know it from excerpts. It successfully premiered in Dublin in 1742. However, the London opening in 1743 was marred by controversy over the use of Biblical text in a place so profane as a theatre. The oratorio form, a kind of opera without costumes or acting, had a long tradition even before Handel, who became a master of the genre since it was cheaper to stage than the grandiose operas of the era. However, the direct quotes from the Bible (rather than a devised text) enraged the clergy, forcing Handel to leave the title off his early ads for the presentation, calling it simply "A New Sacred Oratorio."
The work was generally scorned and did not achieve any popularity until 1750, when Handel granted its use as a fundraiser for the London Foundling Hospital. He later gave the Foundling Hospital the rights to the work, as well as a significant bequest at his death.
One other curiosity of The Messiah is the tradition of standing for the "Hallelujah" chorus. This archaic habit started when King George II, attending the London premier, abruptly stood up during this section of the piece. Protocol required everyone else to rise also, and the tradition stuck for subsequent performances.
IF YOUR BELIEFS or interests lie outside the Western European Anglo-Christmas traditions, Tucson offers plenty of diverse musical events for the season, including Hispanic, African American and gay and lesbian concerts.
Camerata Tucson will present "Guadalupe Vespers," a concert of Renaissance and Baroque works commemorating the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe, with selections in the Aztec Nahuatl language. This re-enactment of the start of the Christmas holiday in colonial Mexico will be presented at Mission San Xavier del Bac, 1950 W. San Xavier Road, at 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, December 12. Suggested donation is $15. Call 740-1851 for more information.
Kwaanza, a celebration of the African holiday with music, dance and stories, gets underway December 26 and 27, and January 1 through 3, at the Tucson Center for the Performing Arts, 408 S. Sixth Ave. Presented by the Barbea Williams Performing Company, advance tickets are $10 general admission, $8 for students and senior citizens. One or two performances are offered each of the five days at varying times. For information and show times, call 628-7785.
The Reveille Gay Men's Chorus will present its holiday concert, Gaily We Sing, at 8 p.m. Saturday, December 5, in Grace St. Paul Episcopal Church, 2331 E. Adams St. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door, with discounts for students, seniors and children under age 12. The concert will also be ASL interpreted. For more information, call 617-3100.
The eclectic Desert Voices present their 10th-annual holiday concert, Traditions, on Friday and Saturday, December 11 and 12. The 8 p.m. shows at the PCC Center for the Arts, 2202 W. Anklam Road, will include "Miracle," the tale of White Buffalo Calf Woman, featuring special musical guest Mary Redhouse; "Betelehemu," a Christmas song from Nigeria; and the Kwaanza-inspired work "Seven Principles."
The concert will also feature the world premiere of "Appalachian Carols," for chorus and brass quintet, by American composer Gwyneth Walker. Tickets are $10 and $12 in advance, and $15 at the door. Tickets outlets include Antigone's Books, Tucson Trunk and Unique on Central. For more information, call Desert Voices at 791-9662.
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