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Hallelujah Chorus Manuscript
Hallelujah Chorus Manuscript
(British Library)

The first performance of Handel’s oratorio Messiah was around Eastertide, but you’d never know it – in our time it’s become a Christmas season standard.

This December (2013), though, it’s not on the concert schedule for any of Northeast Ohio’s big-name ensembles – the Cleveland Orchestra, Apollo’s Fire, the Akron Symphony Orchestra, or the Canton Symphony.

But that’s OK. You’ll still have plenty of chances to hear it – or even sing it yourself – especially if you don’t mind doing a bit of traveling.

This upcoming Sunday (8 December) yields something close to a surfeit of Messiah programs, if that’s even possible! But if none of these half-dozen performances suits, you’ll still have a few more opportunities before the season passes.

That includes a rare chance to hear a performance that bills itself as the entire oratorio – all the choruses, all the arias, all the recitatives.

Why would this be so unusual? It’s a purely practical reason. By the AFM (American Federation of Musicians) definition, an orchestra service is 2 1/2 hours long with one 15-minute break*. An uncut Messiah performance can blast right past that, sometimes taking the better part of 3 hours.

I’ve seen conductors squeeze in every selection right under the wire by taking some very brisk tempi, but normally a complete Messiah means overtime for the orchestra – and that’s not usually in the budget. So, it’s standard practice to omit a few sections of the oratorio.

Although I’m sure I’ve missed some, here’s the Messiah concert list I’ve compiled, in order of performance date and time. Feel free to add any others you know about in the comments below.

Sunday 8 December, 2pm: Toledo Symphony. The orchestra joins with the Toledo Choral Society, BGSU choruses, and soloists Cheryl Babb, Katherine Calcamuggio, Richard Mathey, Shawn Mathey, and Kevin Foos. Peristyle Theater, 2445 Monroe Street, Toledo, 43604. Admission is $35 (419 246-8000 or online).

Sunday 8 December, 3pm: Tuscarawas Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. First Baptist Church, 878 Commercial Ave SW, New Philadelphia, 44663. FREE Admission. Excerpts.

Sunday 8 December, 3pm: Galion Community Chorus with orchestra. First United Church of Christ, 248 Harding Way West, Galion.

Sunday 8 December, 4pm and 7pm: Warren Civic Chorus. Blessed Sacrament Church, 3020 Reeves Road, Warren 44483. Like public radio, it’s free, but your contribution will help them keep it going.

Sunday 8 December, 7pm: Messiah Chorus of Lake County. St Gabriel Church, 9925 Johnnycake Ridge Rd, Concord Township. Free (but they’ll pass the hat).

Sunday 8 December, 7pm: Orrville Community Chorus. Seventieth Annual Messiah Performance. Central Christian School, 3970 Kidron Rd, Kidron 44636. The chorus is accompanied by piano. Admission $5, free for students through 8th grade.

Friday 20 December, 8pm: Mansfield Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, with St Peter’s Traditional Choir, OSU-Mansfield Chorus and soloists. St Peter’s Catholic Church, 54 S Mulberry Street, Mansfield 44902 (419 522-2726). Thomas Hong conducts a real rarity – the complete Messiah. Suggested donation $15.

Saturday 21 December, 7:30pm; Sunday 22 December 2pm: Cincinnati Symphony, with May Festival Chorus. John Nelson conducts. The Saturday concert is an abbreviated ("family friendly") version at Hope Church, 4934 Western Row Rd, Mason 45040. Saturday’s concert is a more nearly complete reading at Cincinnati’s Music Hall, 1241 Elm St. Admission Saturday: adults, $25; kids, $12. Admission Sunday: $25-105. Ticket info at 513 381-3300 or online.

Sunday 22 December, 6:30pm: Dayton Philharmonic and Dayton Philharmonic Chamber Choir. Westminster Presbyterian Church, 125 N Wilkinson Street, Dayton 45402. Admission $14-28 (937 224-3521 or online).

Messiah Singalongs. If you really love Handel’s oratorio, there’s nothing like being in the middle of it! These performances give you the chance. If you know the music, or if you’re a good sight-reader, grab a score and join in. If you’d rather listen, you can just sit and soak up Handel’s glorious choral writing.

One is a couple of hours away: Columbus’s Promusica Chamber Orchestra is putting together a Messiah singalong on Friday 13 December at 7pm. Take your score! It’s at Southern Theatre, 21 East Main St, Columbus 43215. Admission is $20 (614 464-0066 or online).

On Sunday 15 December at 7:30pm, Credo Chamber Music will give you the opportunity to sing Hallelujah and more, and in Severance Hall’s Reinberger Chamber Hall to boot. Oberlin viola professor Peter Slowik will conduct, with soloists from Oberlin Conservatory. Admission is $15 (216 231-1111 or online). If you don’t own a score, another $5 gets you one to use for the evening.

If you’re free on Wednesday 18 December at 12:10pm, you can join in a long-standing Cleveland tradition – the annual "Messiah Sing" at Cleveland’s Trinity Cathedral. Music director Todd Wilson conducts Trinity’s justly famous chamber orchestra – and you – in Part 1 (the Nativity sequence), and then wraps up with the Hallelujah Chorus, which Handel placed at the end of Part 2 (the Easter sequence). This will be about an hour’s worth of music. Admission is FREE (say thanks to sponsor Mrs Robin Hitchcock Hatch). Even the parking is free.

Know of a Messiah performance that I’ve missed? Add it in the comments below!

*That’s also one reason that concerts have intermissions. Yes, Handel had intermissions in his oratorios, too. But that was because the singers demanded them. The poor orchestra players – and Handel himself – didn’t get a break. They were expected to keep the audience entertained while the singers did whatever they did to relax.

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