Danielle Reece-Greenhalgh, Soprano and Honorary Secretary, loves Christmas – and this year she is excited to be singing Handel’s Messiah for the first time.
Christmas is a special time of year. A few days when we hopefully get the chance to spend some proper time with family and friends, to decorate the tree, to wear silly jumpers and eat and drink far more than is good for us! Of course, we might also run ourselves ragged in the shops, forget to turn on the oven to cook the turkey, and vow every year that next Christmas is most definitely cancelled.
I have a slightly different perspective, by virtue of being a “Christmas Day baby.” For me, it means double presents, my very own ‘birthday tree’ (an invention of my parents which has so far lasted 26 years) and the guarantee of a day off work every year to celebrate. The reaction of people to the news of a Christmas birthday is usually one of amused sympathy, coupled with a suggestion that I find another, more convenient, day on which to mark the occasion. However, as someone who has spent the last couple of decades in choirs through school, university, and now with the London Philharmonic Choir, my birthday is inevitably and irreversibly interwoven with the sheer joy that comes with the music of the festive period.
The Christmas Lobster
For as long as I can remember, I have spent the weeks leading up to my birthday doing exactly what I love – as a child that was probably dressing up as a star/angel/shepherd/Christmas tree/lobster (delete as appropriate) and singing Jingle Bells or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. As an adult, that now means diving into the beloved Christmas choral repertoire with such vigour that I inevitably lose my voice right on cue on Christmas Eve.
This year, the choir will spend an evening on 20 December singing some of the greatest carols in the glorious surroundings of the Royal Albert Hall, which never fails to impress, no matter how many times we sing there!
On top of the usual excitement of the carol singing (for sopranos, this inevitably means belting out the descant for all to hear), this year will mark my first experience of performing Handel’s Messiah. Despite it being one of the most regularly performed choral works, I seem to have somehow unintentionally avoided it, unlike most of my fellow choristers. The fact that I will get to perform it for the first time at the Royal Festival Hall, by candlelight, in 18th century costume, more than makes up for my previous missed opportunities!
Rehearsals have made me realise just how epic Messiah is as an oratorio, marked by exhilarating (and exhausting) coloratura and an eye-watering 53 movements. Its length and style has led to popularity amongst large scale choral and orchestral forces, but in fact during Handel’s lifetime, it was reported that a choir of just 19 were responsible for running this vocal marathon. I imagine those singers earned themselves a large jug of wassail in celebration! Some things never change…I was also interested to learn that when Handel first introduced Messiah to a London audience, at the Covent Garden Theatre in 1743, it had a surprisingly muted reception. It was through a programme of charity performances at the London Foundling Hospital (beginning in 1750 and continuing until after Handel’s death) that Messiah began to gain in popularity to become his most successful oratorio.
Handel’s close connection with Thomas Coram and his Foundling Hospital was an 18th century example of the relationship between the Arts and charitable foundations. We think of events such as Comic Relief and Children in Need as new inventions; but in fact Handel was light-years ahead of us!
He realised that the experience of music and performance could be used for a worthwhile purpose, and for that his Messiah will forever be associated with the ideas of giving and the sharing of joy which is so emblematic of the festive period. As a registered charity with the sole objective of promoting choral singing and the Arts, the LPC is, in some small way I hope, following in that very worthwhile tradition.
So to all our singers, volunteers, families, friends, supporters and listeners – raise a glass, belt out that descant, show some goodwill, and have a joyful, peaceful and harmonious Christmas. See you in 2017!
Oliver Gooch conductor
Susannah Hurrell soprano
Clare Presland mezzo-soprano
David Butt Philip tenor
Morgan Pearse baritone
Mozart Festival Orchestra
London Philharmonic Choir
Timothy Henty conductor
Grant Doyle baritone
Alan Titchmarsh presenter
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
London Philharmonic Choir