The Parksville & District Community Choir will put a classic twist on an old favourite for their 45th annual Christmas Concert this weekend. The choir will sing Handel’s Messiah and for the first time, they will be accompanied by The Nanaimo Chamber Orchestra, led by Karl Rainer.
“It’s going to be much more like the original,” said the choir’s director Ann Barber. “Handel intended it to be for a smaller chamber orchestra.”
The opportunity comes in part thanks to choir member Kathy Larson, who takes cello lessons with NCO’s music librarian, principle cellist and chair of the board Diana Fletcher. Larson said she brought her connection to the Nanaimo music group to Barber’s attention, who then took over the job of organizing a show with the NCO.
“Handel’s Messiah is one of the most famous great pieces,” said Larson. “With the orchestra, it will be amazing.”
This isn’t the first time the choir has sung Messiah or been accompanied by an orchestra. Larson said the group’s archives show the choir first sang the piece in 1974 and has performed it every few years since then. Barber also said that former director Dr. John Lewis used to lead Messiah with an orchestra made up of musicians from the mid-Island.
In more recent years, however, that accompaniment has narrowed to a handful of musicians, including Bryn Badel who will again join the choir this year on piccolo trumpet.
The choir’s regular pianist Margaret Nelson will also be there, only this year she’ll be playing the harpsichord continuo. “It’s not a real harpsichord,” she admitted, revealing that she’ll be playing on an electronic version for the concert. However, Nelson isn’t too upset about using the non-traditional instrument. She said that the keys on a real harpsichord distinctively drop when struck — the keys move a feather plectrum to pluck a string inside the instrument— and she hasn’t trained her fingers to play like that. Instead, the pianist will be in familiar territory with the electronic instrument which she describes as much more touch sensitive, like the keys on a piano.
Still, Nelson said the electronic harpsichord has that plucky sound of it’s traditional counterpart. “If you’re hearing the clicky sound, it’s the harpsichord,” she said.
Along with playing a new instrument, Nelson’s part in this year’s Messiah will be a far different experience from the last one she played in 2009. That year she said she played “the entire orchestra” on her piano, but this year she’ll be “much more in the background.”
The Parksville & District Community Choir will also have some vocal accompaniment this year. The 55 voice choir will be joined by returning guest soloists Andrea Sicotte Rodall from Duncan and John Doughty from Victoria, as well as first-time soloists Kristy Gislason and Stephen Barradell from Victoria. According to a news release, all of the soloists have impressive vocal training and have performed with orchestras, opera, choirs and ensembles.
“It’s difficult music. You need really good soloists,” said Larson.
The audience will also be invited to sing along on some familiar choruses. Some scores will be available for those who wish to sing, but supply is limited.
Handel’s Messiah will be presented on Sunday, Dec. 14 at 2:30 p.m. Advance tickets are available at Mulberry Bush Bookstores in Parksville and Qualicum for $20. Any leftover tickets will be sold at the door for $22. For more information, call 250-752-8130.