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Handel : The Messiah

Members of

The City of Birmingham SymphonyYouth Choir

Hallé Youth Choir

National Youth Choir of Great Britain

National Youth Choir of Wales

Quay Voices (The Sage, Gateshead)

RSCM Millennium Youth Choir

Scunthorpe Co-operative Junior Choir

Chorusmaster : Simon Halsey


John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Matthew Rose (bass), Dominique Labelle (soprano), Patricia Bardon (mezzo-soprano),
Northern Sinfonia/Nicholas McGegan


Prom 68 Royal Albert Hall, London, 6th September 2009


Hallelujah indeed for this magnificent Messiah at the BBC Proms. This was different. The Albert Hall was the place to be, for a broadcast can't quite capture the atmosphere, or the sense of festive expectation that built up even before the show started.

This Messiah
was fun ! Because its theme is religious, and it's often given on occasions of civic worthiness, it can be performed in ponderous sobriety. But this performance was electric. Seldom have I heard a choir of this size so lively. It's no mean feat to bring together seven youth choirs and combine them so well that they sounded like they'd been singing together for years. Such precision, such perfect unison - even the entries were perfectly timed. Seeing three hundred singers rise together in an instant, not one lagging, is quite amazing.

What animated these singers ? They sang with such vivacity that they made the piece afresh, as if the story was exciting news, and the music a thing of wonder. Whoever worked out the balances deserves special praise. Every voice is unique, so putting them together to create such fine balance took some doing. The spread across the higher voices was particularly well-judged, creating a nice spectrum, grading smoothly into darker tones. With choirs this size, clarity is more important than usual, because any muddiness can soon end in mush. Not so here, for the singing was so bright and clean. It didn't matter a jot that "Are we like Sheep?" comes over as a "We like sheep!" because the real meaning of this oratorio is the miracle of life.

Indeed, it was the choirs who made this Messiah such a thrill. Singing is fun, and singing in a group is electrifying. Whatever these kids with shining faces go on to do, they won't forget this moment. Nicholas McGeggan and the Northern Sinfonia, and the soloists - big names like John Mark Ainsley, Matthew Rose, Patricia Bardon and Dominique Labelle - were good, but for once took second place to the combined choirs.

This is why it means so much to support the Sing Hallelujah ! project. Follow the link and read about it, because it's a wonderful venture. Anyone can particpate - sign in on the site. The idea is to get ordinary people all over the country to sing, and moreover to come together. Handel may be the official tag but what's really being celebrated is the joy of being alive. Singing is an energizing physical activity, and communal singing charges emotional batteries. The BBC and the ENO may be behind this, but frankly, it's something the NHS should be supporting too, for its long term benfits.

Programmes like Songs of Praise aim at a niche market, but singing can reach out to many more people. That's why I'm going to watch The Choir
when it starts again on BBC Radio 3 on 20th September. With Aled Jones as presenter it extends the concept of choral singing firther so it reaches and benefits a much wider community. There is a great deal of interesting choral music beyond the niche. In Europe, choral music has enjoyed a renaissance for some time, with exciting new choirs like Accentus, and composers like Carl Orff and Clytus Gottwald. Last year The Choir featured the work of Zoltan Kodaly, both as composer and as teacher. Programmes like this are needed more than ever because they bring communal singing into the mainstream for all, where it deserves to be.

Naturally the Hallelujah Chorus
will be the centrepiece of the communal singing projects all over the country, for it's a song everyone knows and there aren't many words to memorize ! But that's why it's a good starting point : it raises the spirits for more. There's advice online for organizing local groups. In Glasgow and London on the weekend 5/6 December there will be special "learning events". The ENO is presenting The Messiah from November in a staging by Deborah Warner. The cultural Taleban may sneer, but quite frankly, music is born again on performance, so I'm perfectly happy to give it a chance. From all we know, Handel wasn't a po-faced autodictat. Chances are he would have been thrilled to hear how his music has adapted to serve communities more diverse and wider than he could ever have imagined.


Anne Ozorio



See Ivan Hewett in Telegraph: The sound of those young voices was simply thrilling in a way that brooks no argument.

Follow too Gareth Malone's new series on BBC2 "The Choir - Unsung Town" [Editor]