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Release: Immediate

UI Symphony and Choruses will perform Handel's 'Messiah' Dec. 3

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Handel's "Messiah" -- one of the most popular pieces of classical music ever composed and widely considered one of the greatest works of the European musical tradition -- will be presented by the University of Iowa Symphony, choruses and soloists in a free performance at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 3, in Hancher Auditorium on the UI campus.

The performance will be conducted by William Hatcher, the director of choral activities at the UI School of Music. The chorus will be comprised of members of four choral ensembles from the School of Music: Kantorei, which Hatcher directs; the University Choir, directed by graduate assistant Melanie Jacobson; Camerata Singers, directed by faculty member Richard Bloesch; and the University Women's Chorale, directed by graduate assistant Kelly Bjugan.

The arias will be sung by a number of student soloists: sopranos Thea Engelson, Danielle Hurt, and LeAnne Foust; altos David Shaler and Rachel Andrews; tenors Dirk Garner, Jared Parker and Jeff Krueger; and basses Daniel Afonso, Gary Haase and Matthew Faerber.

The performance will be preceded by a free discussion of "Messiah" and its text presented by George Nickelsburg, professor in the UI School of Religion, at 7 p.m. in the Hancher Auditorium Greenroom.

"Messiah" is today the most popular of the many oratorios on Biblical subjects that Handel wrote during his years in England. Most of the oratorios are dramatic settings of stories from the Old Testament, written in operatic style and considered appropriate as entertainment during the Lenten season, when operas were not permitted.

"Messiah" differs from those works in several ways. For one, its subject -- Christian salvation as revealed through the life of Jesus -- is taken from the New Testament. For another, it is not dramatic in the conventional sense of using dialog or portraying characters and their conflicts through music. Instead, Jesus' life is told through narration derived from Biblical passages.

Finally, a great deal of the narration is sung by the chorus, giving "Messiah" far more choral music than most of Handel's oratorios -- a fact that has contributed significantly to the continuing popularity of the work. To an extent unparalleled for a classical work, amateur choruses and choral singers consider performances of "Messiah" the ultimate musical experience, and sing-along performances have become staples of musical life in many communities.

The vast majority of these performances take place each year during the Christmas season, although it should be noted that "Messiah" tells the entire story of Jesus' life, paralleling the Christian liturgical calendar from Advent and Christmas through Lent, Easter, the Ascension and Pentecost.

Handel wrote "Messiah" in 1741. The score was composed for a performance benefiting charities in Dublin, where it was first performed April 13, 1742. That performance, using local singers and choruses from the Dublin cathedrals, was very successful, earning about 400 English pounds for the charities.

In contrast, the first London performance of "Messiah" in 1743 was not a great success -- partly because its performance in a theater was considered inappropriate for a sacred work. Nevertheless, when Handel began performing "Messiah" in 1750 in benefit concerts for the London Foundling Hospital Chapel, it was quickly established as the composer's most popular work, a position it has held to the present day.

Hatcher has served as director of choral activities at the UI School of Music since 1988. He directs the graduate choral conducting program, conducts choral ensembles in the School of Music and frequently appears as music director of productions by the UI Opera Theater.

He was national president of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) 1991-93 and currently is chair of the ACDA Endowment Trust. Prior to coming to Iowa he taught at UCLA, the University of Washington and Pasadena City College.

In the fall of 1996, his UI Kantorei participated in an International Choral Competition in Tolosa, Spain. Prior to that honor, Kantorei was one of only five choirs chosen to participate in the 1994 World Choral Festival in Seoul, South Korea, where they presented concerts over an eight-day period.

Hatcher's concert tours with other collegiate ensembles have included Europe, Greece, the British Isles, Canada, Hawaii and the western United States. Hatcher was also coordinator and assistant director of the 1,000-voice Olympic Honor Chorus, which sang for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, an event telecast to more than two billion people worldwide.

Hatcher has published materials on choral skills and choral arrangements, and he appears frequently as a choral clinician and festival choir director.