It’s been the king of king of English language oratorios since German-born British composer George Frideric Handel composed it way back in 1741.
And when you really think about it, Christmas would not be complete without the Messiah.
On Sunday, Dec. 22, the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra will be joined by the OSO Chorus, both under the direction of musical maestra Rosemary Thomson, and four renowned and familiar soloists, to bring the popular masterwork to the Vernon Performing Arts Centre.
Coming from all parts are vocalists Stephanie Nakagawa (soprano), Lynne McMurtry (mezzo soprano), Jason Ragan (tenor) and Gordon Bintner (baritone), who all have a connection to the Okanagan.
Looking forward to her return home is McMurtry, who was raised in Vernon, honed her singing career in Toronto, and now lives in Fredonia, N.Y., approximately 80 kilometres west of Buffalo, where she teaches in the voice department at the college there.
A professional opera singer who has sung with major symphonies and with opera companies across North America, McMurtry says she loves performing Messiah and looks forward to feeling that sense of musical community every year when people come together for such a beloved work.
“Coming back to sing in the Okanagan and particularly with the Okanagan Symphony is a homecoming on a few different levels. It’s coming home to where I grew up, of course, but it’s also coming back to my first musical home,” she said.
“I had an incredibly strong musical education in Vernon and the Okanagan, and it gave me so many advantages when I pursued a career professionally. So I really give thanks for the community that nurtured me when I come back to sing.”
Performing with the OSO is also a return to her roots as McMurtry’s first instrument was the violin and she used to play in the second violin section of the symphony.
“It was probably my first professional musical experience. It taught me so much: about how to listen as a musician, how to follow a conductor and it gave me a very powerful taste of the sheer joy of being a part of something sublimely larger than myself, whether it was a Sibelius symphony or the Lieutenant Kije Suite of Prokofiev or the Beethoven violin concerto,” she said.
While in Vernon, McMurtry also stretched her vocal chords, so to speak, and sang in numerous choruses, including the Aura Chamber Choir under Imant Raminsh (who she also played violin with in the OSO.)
“A lot of people who sing in the symphony choir were around when I was growing up, so they’re another familiar circle,” she said.
For Nakagawa, who studied opera at UBC, and holds a master’s degree from Indiana University and is currently pursuing her doctorate at UBC, it’s through her hometown of Salmon Arm where her connection to the symphony and the singing world started.
“When I was little, my singing teacher took me to one of their (OSO’s) performances in Salmon Arm and I loved hearing them perform. I also just really admire Rosemary and all the orchestral musicians. They’re such talented performers and really wonderful people,” she said.
Also making the performance special is that this will be the first time Nakagawa has sung Handel’s Messiah in its entirety.
“I’ve sung it many times before as part of the choir and as one of many soloists,” she said. “There is so much beautiful and wonderful music in it… It’s such gorgeous music that I’m sure many will enjoy. I’m really looking forward to performing back home in the Okanagan amongst friends and family.”
Not your typical Christmas concert, the OSO is going to some pains, in a good way, to make this performance as authentic as possible, said OSO general manager Scott Wilson.
And that includes shipping in a Rutkowski and Robinette-made harpsichord all the way from Vancouver, where it is housed in the UBC music department.
“(Organist) Christina Hutten will be performing on it, and we will have a continuum with bassoon, cello, portative organ and our vocal quartet,” said Wilson.
Along with the almost sold-out performance at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre, as well as evening shows in Penticton and Kelowna, the symphony will be performing a shortened sing-along version of Messiah for a matinee at the Kelowna Community Theatre Saturday, Dec. 21.
“(It’s) a great way for everyone to join in together as we get into the holiday spirit,” said Thomson. “The OSO Chorus has been rehearsing since August and their enthusiasm on stage will be motivation for our audience and have everyone leaving the theatre excited to spend the holidays with friends and family.”
Tickets for the Sunday, Dec. 22, 7 p.m., concert in the Vernon Performing Arts Centre can be purchased at the Ticket Seller, 549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca, and in Kelowna at the Kelowna Actors Studio, 250-862-2867 or at www.okanagansymphony.com.