Paul’s Pick: Greenville Chorale brings back Handel’s towering ‘Messiah’

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The Greenville Chorale performs Handel's "Messiah," the most popular work written for chorus and orchestra, on Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. at Furman University's McAlister Auditorium. Photo provided.

Paul’s Pick of the Week: “Messiah,” by George Frideric Handel, featuring the Greenville Chorale, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 7:30 p.m. at Furman University’s McAlister Auditorium.

Why you should go: This oratorio about the King of Kings is the king of choral works. Handel’s “Messiah” is arguably the greatest and certainly the most popular masterpiece written for chorus and orchestra – a distinction it has maintained for 280 years.

“Messiah” is a particularly favorite choice at Christmastime. It has been 10 years since the mighty Greenville Chorale has sung the work.

“It was time to bring it back,” said the Chorale’s longtime music director Bing Vick.

The 145-voice Chorale will collaborate with a 27-piece orchestra. Taking on the solo parts will be several vocalists from the Chorale.

“‘Messiah’ is part of the Christmas tradition in America and I think this is going to be a wonderful, meaningful concert,” Vick said.

What it’s about: Parts One and Two, which the Chorale will perform, relate the story of the coming of Jesus Christ, his birth, crucifixion and resurrection – concluding with the famed “Hallelujah” chorus.

“The appeal is on many different levels – musical and theological,” Vick said. “Handel was in the entertainment business first of all and his prime audience was the opera audience in London. Then he moved to oratorios, such as ‘Messiah,’ which were basically operas without the scenery and dramatic action.

“‘Messiah’ features delightful baroque music,” Vick said. “It’s beautiful and tuneful. There’s exaltation and serious drama. The second level is obviously the theological. The heart of Christianity is the birth, death and resurrection of Christ, and that’s the message of ‘Messiah.’”

A Greenville tradition: This marks the 37th annual Christmastime concert for the Chorale. Most often, the Chorale performs a Christmas pops-style concert. Every few years, however, the Chorale presents “Messiah.”

Fun facts: Handel composed this towering masterpiece in a mere 24 days in the late summer of 1741.

In the U.S., the audience traditionally stands when the first notes of the “Hallelujah” chorus are heard. Why is that? Legend has it that King George II initiated the practice by standing during the “Hallelujah” chorus.

“When the king stands, everyone stands,” Vick said. “But why did he stand up? One biographer says he had been sitting for two hours and stood up to stretch his legs. Another story has it that he was so overcome with emotion by the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus that he stood up. I’m not sure we’ll ever know exactly, but the tradition has continued. I think it’s a mark of respect for the work and for the message.”

Paul Hyde, a veteran Upstate journalist, writes about the arts for the Greenville Journal. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.

If you go:

What: Handel’s “Messiah,” featuring the Greenville Chorale and orchestra

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 18,

Where: Furman University’s McAlister Auditorium

Tickets: $5 to $30

Info: 864-467-3000 or www.peacecenter.org (Tickets sold by Peace Center box office)

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