Renowned conductor Matthew Halls promises us that this year's performance of Handel's Messiah with the Houston Symphony and Houston Symphony Chorus "is positively bursting with drama from the first note until the last." What's more, he says the three performances this weekend won't be simple repeats of each other. "I feel very strongly that each performance of this timeless masterpiece should feel like a uniquely special event, both for the performers and for the audience."
Halls has a long history with the work, first as a young boy chorister, then as an adult choral singer (as both a bass and a counter-tenor). Later he performed the work on both the organ and the harpsichord. And for the last ten years, he's regularly been at the podium conducting Handel's most famous composition. Although he's extremely familiar with the work, he says every time he opens the score, he finds something new. And he's willing to be swept up in the moment while onstage. "We know where we're going to begin and we have a fair idea of where we're going to end up two and a quarter hours later, but anything can happen along the way."
"There are many things that I prefer not to set completely in stone before a performance of Messiah, particularly insofar as pacing is concerned, so that we have the flexibility to explore along the way. Didn't Debussy once say -- and I paraphrase slightly here -- that music exists between the notes? Well, in the case of the Messiah, I always feel that [while] the notes [are] extremely familiar...there remains an infinite number of possibilities when it comes to linking them all together. Many things can change in the moment during a performance that can alter and dictate the overall shape of the piece. It's a bit like a journey. For me it's the 'journey' which is of prime importance."
Joining Halls and the Houston Symphony with be soprano Gillian Keith (making her debut with the orchestra), countertenor Jay Carter, tenor Chad Shelton and baritone Brian Mulligan. Charles Hausmann directs the Houston Symphony Chorus. Messiah includes the much-loved "Hallelujah Chorus" and popular "Rejoice Greatly."
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Hear Handel's holiday classic at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, 615 Louisiana. For information, visit the Houston Symphony website or call 713‑224‑7575. $29 to $114.