Saturday, December 8, 2018
Commissioned by the New York City Master Chorale, Emily Lau has created new solo movements in an imaginative interpretation of Händel’s Messiah, bringing the 21st century lenses of social justice and cultural diversity to this masterpiece:
I think of this project as an opportunity to write a fun companion to Händel’s masterwork, so that it can be more inclusive and moving to a diverse audience today. The text, the harmony, and the orchestration in the solo movements are all brand new. But I took care to fit these new movements, both harmonically and structurally, into Händel’s original milieu.
The single most important focus of this work for me has been curating a new set of texts for the solo movements, choosing words that bring inspiration and unity in today’s world, regardless of one’s religious or cultural background. This process brings me enormous joy, and is part of my life’s work. I chose words by inspirational people from all walks of life, ancient and contemporary, that best reflect the diversity of today’s American ethos. There are words by Buddha, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Sojourner Truth, John Muir, Chief Seattle, and more. I have wept frequently and deeply while setting these texts to music.
Harmonically and musically, I have taken a conservative approach, choosing first and foremost to preserve the poetic and musical cohesion of the original Messiah. With that foundation in place, I turn my focus to the text, choosing sonorities that illuminate the meaning of each word and weave those themes into the larger work. Ideally, for a listener new to Händel’s Messiah, the overall work will not sound like two separate pieces of music, composed by two composers of completely different backgrounds, 300 years apart.
I don’t intend this music to stand out as “new and odd,” but rather: sensible, lyrical, and joyful. Of course, my own musical fingerprints are everywhere in this work, including influences from Medieval and Renaissance polyphony, contemporary vocal music, and Canto-pop, as well as lots and lots of Händelian tributes.
My sincerest hope is that more people, from every background, can come to the Messiah feeling a common sense of ownership. That they too can be moved by the sounds of strings, continuo, soloists, and chorus; the intricate blending and passionate wrestling. That they too can be inspired by this music, so as to act courageously and kindly in their own daily lives.
Experiencing the Messiah has been a longstanding tradition treasured by many. Now we hope the “many” can multiply.
– Emily Lau
Principal Conductor’s Note
It’s the most wonderful time of the year (or so Andy Williams tells us), and we are so grateful you have decided to share it with us. December in New York brings many signs of the changing season as the leaves drop from the trees and collars turn up against the wind and the cold. Lights adorn trees, menorahs are lit, and shop windows take on a magic and decadence far beyond the painted-on snowflakes that seemed to me the height of festivity and elegance in my youth in rural Ohio. A tradition almost as emblematic of the holiday season in our city as the Rockettes (and with a much longer history) is the annual performance of Handel’s Messiah by local choruses and orchestras from the Bronx to the Battery and beyond.
One might ask, “do we really need another Messiah this year?” Thankfully, those voices are easily drowned out by the crowds of people happily singing the “Hallelujah” chorus from their concert seats all over town. Glibness aside, one may reasonably ask, “What does a piece written nearly three centuries ago have to say to a modern New Yorker?” I can say without reservation that there is a great deal about Messiah that is as relevant today as it was in 1741 and will be in 2041: the power of hope; the reminder that light always follows the dark; and the knowledge that winter always turns to spring again.
Tonight, we are immensely proud and excited to enhance these universal messages by shining a light on new voices with new expressions of these same ideals. Composed by Emily Lau, tonight’s reimagined Messiah includes recitatives and arias with texts by Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Buddha, and many others who exemplified these truths in their lives and in their words. To those tempted to cry “sacrilege!” to the reconstituting of the monument of Messiah, we recall that Händel himself regularly recomposed his most famous oratorio to better complement the needs of each performance. We are proud to continue this tradition and to offer new ways of communicating these same timeless truths while sharing some of the most iconic music ever written.
Thank you for joining us, and from all of us at the New York City Master Chorale, may your holidays be merry and bright!
– Dusty Francis