Phil Burkhart: Austin Symphony brings back Messiah

Published 5:34 pm Friday, April 26, 2024

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The Austin Symphony and Symphony Chorus will be bringing back one of the most popular masterworks in music – Handel’s Messiah. The concert is Sunday, May 5, starting at 2 p.m. in Knowlton Auditorium. The performance features our own 60 voice Symphony Chorus lead by Chorusmaster Sonia Larson plus the following soloists: Nathan Berthelsen, Bradley Carlton, Morgan Dickman, Neal Erickson, Pam Koser, Kelsy Korfhage, Brad Nelson, Kaye Perry, Nikki Phillips, Stefanie Tranchida and Bradley Weber.

I know what you are thinking: isn’t Messiah usually done at Christmas? Well, yes it is often performed during the holidays. However, it was originally performed during the Easter season, and is often done at that time even today. You see, the oratorio is the story of Christ’s life, starting with the prophecy of His coming, to his birth, His suffering and death, and the possibility of redemption through faith. So it is applicable to the entire year. And although it has a religious theme, it has survived the test of centuries because of its beautiful melodies and memorable choruses.

Much legend surrounds Messiah. This we do know: it was written by Handel in 24 days. Even today, with our computerized composing, this is considered an incredible feat. One legend, however, that I choose to believe without proof, is that Handel, upon finishing the Hallelujah Chorus, burst from his study and exclaimed “I have seen the face of God!”

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Another interesting fact about Messiah is that it was the stimulus for the formation of the Austin Symphony almost 70 years ago. A group of local musicians, many of them educators, formed an orchestra and chorus just to do the piece. But after having great success, they decided to continue performing as the new Austin Symphony and Symphony Chorus. The rest is, as they say, history. Over the years it has been performed so many times that thousands of local musicians spanning several generations have made it a part of their lives. What a testament to the power of great music.

The Symphony Chorus has been taught by Sonia Larson since 1997. Her extensive experience includes teaching at Riverland Community College and Luther College and directing children’s choirs for the Austin Symphony, St. Olaf Church and MacPhail Center for Music in Austin. She currently teaches voice and piano at MacPhail and enjoys accompanying many musicians.

Tickets are available for $25 for adults if purchased at Coffee House on Main or Hy-Vee or online at  Children under the age of 18 and college students with college ID are free. Tickets are $30 if purchased at the door the day of the performance.

There is also a special event on the day of the concert for those who have donated to the Symphony. At 1 p.m. in Knowlton Auditorium, Jacob Crosby, violist and MacPhail teacher, will be presenting a pre-concert talk about the history and structure of the Messiah. This is one of a series of sessions titled Unwrapping the Symphony. It will be both entertaining and instructive. This is a gift to all those who have generously donated to the Symphony this season, either as a Donor, Patron, Sponsor, etc. If you would like to become a donor, please visit our website. There you will find a lot of information including a survey that you can use to let us know how we are doing. You can also call 507-460-3678.