Harford Choral Society to present Handel's Messiah in May spring concert

“Sumer is icumen in, lhude sing cuccu!”

Summer is indeed “a-coming in, loudly sing cuckoo,” and celebrate with the Harford Choral Society at its spring concert on Saturday.

The Harford Choral Society will present its Messiah in May spring concert under the direction of Kathryn Locke at 7 p.m. at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, 1200 Churchville Road in Bel Air.

The program will feature the Easter portion of Handel’s Messiah and various other works to celebrate spring and summer. There will also be a silent auction following the performance featuring a variety of plants, gift certificates and other gift items.

Tickets may be purchased in advance through the website, harfordchoralsociety.org, or locally at Preston’s Stationery or Music Land in Bel Air. Advance sale prices are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 for students (13-22). Children under 12 are free. Tickets will be available at the door for an additional $5 for adults and seniors.

Harford Choral Society, which has been performing since 1954, consists of a group of dedicated volunteers who are committed to presenting quality music and performances to the community.

What can be said about Messiah that hasn’t already been said in hundreds of program notes for performances every year? George Frederick Handel’s sixth oratorio, Messiah is one of the best-known and most frequently performed choral work in western literature.

The circumstances under which Messiah was composed are legendary. It is known that most of the work was completed in 24 days in 1741. Such speed was typical of the composer. While he was composing Messiah, it is said that Handel was so consumed with his work that he reportedly refused both food and drink. The first performance of Messiah took place not in London, but Dublin, on April 13, 1742.

Messiah is divided into three sections. The first is concerned with the prophesy of the coming of a Messiah and then with Christ's nativity. This section is probably the most performed as Messiah has become a Christmas tradition. Part II details Christ's suffering and death. The concluding section offers an affirmation of Christian faith and glimpses of Revelation. The Choral Society’s performance will focus on parts II and III in keeping with Handel’s intention that the work would be performed during the Easter season.

“Sumer is icumen in” (also called the Summer Canon and the Cuckoo Song) is a medieval English round or rota of the mid-13th century, whose composer is unknown. The title translates approximately to "Summer Has Come In" or "Summer Has Arrived." The song expresses the sheer joy of the advent of spring and summer. Singers will perform it as a round with a continuous repeated bass line underneath.

“Come away sweet love” by Thomas Greaves (fl. 1604) is a madrigal for five voices. Madrigals were a special kind of songs for a small group of people to sing. They were especially popular in England in the 15th and 16th centuries and were sung and enjoyed as entertainment. The words of madrigals are always about secular (non-religious) things, e.g. love, and usually consist of verses and a “fa-la-la” refrain. Thomas Greaves, an English composer, wrote four of them in 1604.

“Komm, holder Lenz” by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) comes from Haydn’s oratorio The Seasons. It, too, portrays the absolute joy of spring by calling urgently upon spring to come quickly and bring everything to life.

“The Bluebird” by Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford (1852–1924) with text by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (1861-1907) is one of eight Coleridge poems set by Stanford as a collection of part songs. Most of Stanford’s works are massive church anthems, almost operatic in their vocal demands, but “The Bluebird” stands in stark contrast to those pieces, showing a gentler side of Stanford as he delicately sets to music the poetry of Mary Coleridge.

“He watching Over Israel” by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) comes from the composer’s oratorio “Elijah.” This piece premiered in 1846 and was an instant success. In two parts it depicts events in the life of the Biblical prophet Elijah.

“Northern Lights” by Norwegian composer Ola Gjello (1978 - ) is a beautifully ethereal piece inspired by the aurora borealis, commonly seen in northern latitudes. It is set to the Latin text Pulchra Es from The Song of Solomon. The composer says “Northern Lights is my most Norwegian production in years; composed in an attic outside of Oslo at Christmas time in 2007. It is about beauty, about a ‘terrible,’ powerful beauty, although the music is quite serene on the surface.”

“Libertango” by Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) featuring spicy rhythms and a fiendish melody is one of the most performed of his works. Piazzolla revolutionized the traditional tango into a new style termed “nuevo tango,” incorporating elements from jazz and classical music.

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