BY KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent
The Johnstown Symphony Orchestra will celebrate the holiday season Dec. 10 with a concert titled “Joy for the Holidays.”
The professional musicians of the symphony are to be accompanied on stage by the Johnstown Symphony Chorus, Inclined to Sing and acclaimed guest soloists. They plan to perform Baroque composer G.F. Handel’s “Messiah.”
Symphony music director and Maestro James Blachly said that one reason he chose “Messiah” — which is one of the most popular pieces of classical music in the world — is because it hasn’t been performed in Johnstown in years.
“I think it’s extremely exciting for our audience to hear ‘Messiah’ for the first time in seven years,” Blachly said. “This piece has been continuously performed and loved by audiences since its premiere in 1741. It has an appeal that transcends time, and it has a timeless message.”
The words for “Messiah” are drawn from scripture and Psalms and set to Handel’s music. The piece is designed to bring to life the story of Jesus.
The piece is known as an oratorio, which means that it’s a dramatic work for the stage, but is performed without costumes, scenery or acting.
“Musically, ‘Messiah’ is so rich that we continue to go back to the piece, and no matter how many times we perform it, we’ll always find something new,” he said. “There’s also no better telling of the Christmas story in music than through Handel’s ‘Messiah.’ In my first season as music director, I wanted to have our Christmas performance be top of the line.”
Blachly has invited international soloists and one of the most renowned baroque continuo players in the world to participate in the performance. The four acclaimed guest soloists include soprano Nacole Palmer, mezzo soprano Kirsten Sollek, tenor Daniel Mutlu and baritone Jesse Blumberg.
“I invited each of these soloists because, having performed ‘Messiah’ dozens of times with each of them, I felt they brought something special and personal to their solos,” Blachly said. “They are all New York Times-reviewed singers with established careers as oratorio singers.
“I can personally vouch for their artistry and for what they’ll bring to the performance. What I want to highlight is that the text of ‘Messiah’ is all drawn from Scripture, either the (Old Testament) or the New Testament. The way these singers can communicate the deeper underlying meaning of the text through their voices is why I selected them as soloists. There are many singers who specialize in making a beautiful sound. These singers go beyond that, and will bring the Christmas message to Johnstown with a personal approach.”
Johnstown Symphony Chorus members, who will be performing under the direction of Samuel Louis Coco, are looking forward to participating as well.
“I’m thrilled to be working closely with the Johnstown Symphony Chorus,” Blachly said. “They have been preparing for this concert for the past three months and I’ve had four rehearsals with them.
“I’m very excited about the work they’ve done and the performance they will give. I can guarantee an impassioned, joyful performance.”
Members of Inclined to Sing, the symphony’s children’s choir, will also lend their voices to the performance.
“When I first met Kim Rauch (who founded and continues to direct Inclined to Sing), we spoke about the possibility of the children joining us for this Christmas concert, and I’m thrilled to say that they’ll be performing on two of the movements,” Blachly said. “I think it will add a certain beautiful quality to the sound and it will also remind us about what Christmas is all about.”
Blachly said he’s looking forward to this concert and celebrating the holidays with the community, as well as all the musicians who are working hard to make this concert a memorable one.
“In this holiday concert, people of all faiths will relate to the message of joy and understanding,” he said. “And the music will lift us all to our feet.”
A free pre-concert talk is to begin at 6:30 p.m., and the concert is scheduled an hour later at 7:30 p.m. Following the concert, audience members will also be welcome to stay and meet the soloists.
“They can speak to the soloists and even ask them some questions,” Blachly said.
Tickets for “Joy for the Holidays” are on sale now and can be purchased by calling 814-269-7200 or by visiting www.upjarts.org online.
The concert is to take place inside the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center on the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown campus.