Notes on the Program  |  December 18, 20 & 22, 2013

Handel's MESSIAH

Portland Chamber Orchestra: Handel's  Messiah , 2013

From the Maestro

I learned to love Baroque music through violin studies and singing in choral groups at a very young age, and it was later, during my years of study at the Music Academy in Jerusalem, that this love was enhanced with a knowledge and understanding of the style.

During the first two years at the Academy, the study of Baroque counterpoint focused on theory and composition as we learned to compose two and three part madrigals, motets, inventions, fugues, and four-part harmonization of the soprano lines of J.S. Bach’s chorales. We delved deeply into the structure of other forms of Baroque composition, and analyzed airs, variations and suites.

Shortly after my graduation from the Jerusalem Music Academy, and upon my arrival in New York, I became a student of the world renowned conductor, organist and Renaissance/Baroque scholar and theologian, Dr. Richard Westenburg, founding director of Musica Sacra, a professional choral society whose annual Carnegie Hall performance of Handel's "Messiah" was a highlight of New York's winter holiday scene.

Dick was an inspiring conductor, teacher and scholar who kept close tabs on changing musicological conventions regarding the performance of Baroque works. He balanced those ideas with his own strongly etched sense of style, with exciting results. His knowledge of the musical and liturgical text in concert with his profound intellect, and spiritual and emotional gifts, shaped his performances into deeply moving, musical- metaphysical experiences.

Dick’s choir was a trim ensemble of between 30 and 35 professional singers, with an orchestra similar in size to the PCO; and his brisk readings offered a striking contrast to the mammoth size “Messiah” performances that had become commonplace.  I attended most of his Messiahs over the last twenty-five years until his passing two years ago. They were touching, spiritual, unvarnished, direct and honest in their tragic poignancy and joyful, triumphal spirit. They were always fresh and exciting and never failed to surprise in the choice of tempi, ornamentation, and stylistic clarity.  Our lengthy telephone discussions always followed those concerts with issues and observations addressed that exerted a significant influence on my own conducting of the work.

Yaki Bergman