December 11, 2012
Ragnar Bohlin is not only a superb chorus master, he is also a brilliant man, coming from Swedish intelligentsia, in the country smart enough to give Nobel Prizes.
And yet, ask him (as I do, every year) what's new about the season's Messiah concerts he conducts, and there is a moment's hesitation.
"Yes, it's tricky to come up with something new," he admits, but then he finds the words, just as his interpretation, leading the Grammy Award-winning SFS Chorus, is fresh each time:
Messiah is in a way always "new" because of all its wonderful melodies that leave one musically fully satisfied. Written by a master at the height of his powers, it is the pinnacle of all his oratorios and operas.
It is also a challenge, requiring the very best from soloists, chorus, and orchestra. The chorus needs to be flexible, malleable, to sing in each of the piece’s different styles convincingly.
Even within the first section, "Isaiah’s prophecy of salvation," each part has a different sound and style, from the contemplative orchestral opening to the lyrical tenor arias of "Comfort ye my people" and "Every valley shall be exalted" to the rousing chorus "And the glory of the Lord." Throughout Messiah, there is variety and a constantly shifting musical focus.
This year we have a cadre of young, very talented up-and-coming soloists: soprano Joelle Harvey, mezzo Jennifer Johnson-Cano, tenor Andrew Stenson, and baritone Michael Sumuel.