A long time ago, last Saturday night to be exact, a bunch of us went to the old cathedral in town. We got in early, sat close to the front and watched the technician tune the harpsichord. At 8, the announcer told us to check that our mobiles were switched off, and reminded us of how special it is to hear Messiah in a church that was built around the same time Handel composed the music.
I don’t know which part was my favourite because there were so many. Phrases and choruses keep running through my head. A man of sorrows…And His glory will be seen upon thee…Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…All we like sheep…blessing and honor and glory and power be unto Him, be unto Him…
They were the Irish Baroque Orchestra and Resurgam Chamber Choir, conducted by John Butt. It was a stellar choir and a gifted conductor, skillfully portraying Handel’s dynamics and eloquent pauses. The transcendent moment for me came when they started the crystal-clear, powerful chords of “Worthy is the Lamb.” It was like angels’ singing.
The music is powerful and moving in itself, but wedded with the words of prophecy, suffering, rejoicing, and triumph, Messiah is meaningful to me in ways that little else is. Driving out of the car park afterwards with a group of friends, I had nothing to say, but wanted to be quiet and savor the echoes in my mind. Sometimes the only fitting response to music is not praise, but silence.