Last night we spent the evening in front of the television, for me, a very rare event. From 8p.m. to 9 p.m. we watched the Christmas program from the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. It was lush and beautiful. A huge choir, a massive orchestra, dazzling decorations and great musicianship on the part of all. Natalie Cole was the special guest, and she really surprised me. She was gracious and charming (except for the huge amount of blue eyeshadow). In addition to singing, she recited the Christmas story from Luke 2 with beautiful expression. A truly enjoyable performance all the way round.
Then from 9 p.m. on we were treated to a marvelous performance of The Messiah, from King's College, Cambridge. This was the finest performance I've ever heard. The orchestra was small: 5 first violins, 4 second violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos, 1 bass, a harpsichord, small organ, 1 bassoon, and (if I figured it out right) 2 oboes. One of the oboes was blond--the oboe, not the oboeist, and I've never seen that before, but I'm pretty sure it was an oboe. This small group was joined by 2 trumpets and tympani when needed. This orchestra was the Academy of Ancient Music and the choir was the King's College choir: 35 young men and boys. And, of course, there were the four soloists. Every musician there was top notch. The piercing purity of sound from the boy sopranos always thrills me, and last night the whole ensemble was the highest musical treat of this season.
The trumpeter deserves special mention as the trumpet was (I'm guessing) a three foot long horn with no valves! His playing was impeccable and thrilling; I was in awe. Such talent! Yes, I know: talent, but hours and hours and hours of work to reach that lofty height of ability.
When I was in college in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the playing of the Messiah by the college orchestra and choir was always the real beginning of the Christmas season. It was performed at the beginning of December in the Civic Center. Downtown was all decorated for the season, and there was almost always snow to make everything look "Christmassy." But we had a choir of 500, an orchestra of 50, and an audience of 4 to 5,000. It was a BIG, HEAVY interpretation. One year I was principal of the second violins and I was scared stiff!!!
This version last night from King's College was light, precise and still robust. What a treat!
Now I'm just hoping we can catch the service of lessons and carols from King's College, Cambridge. That is always a treat of the same dimensions.