Denison’s Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Singers, and Concert Choir will unite to perform Handel’s timeless Messiah, a renowned oratorio and December tradition, at 7 p.m. Dec. 1 in Swasey Chapel.

This collection of Old and New Testament passages is recognized as Handel’s magnum opus. First performed in 1742, Messiah’s allure remains strong nearly three hundred years later.

As an oratorio — a genre of music branching from opera —  Messiah includes arias and choral and symphonic movements. Arias are extended solos — distinct from choral movements, which involve the entire choir — while symphonic movements are purely instrumental. The passionate arias, choruses, and symphonic movements of Messiah have amazed audiences across centuries.

Assistant professor Harris Ipock, this production’s choral director and conductor, muses about Messiah’s great significance to classical music.

“It’s very much a work of staggering genius,” Ipock said. “If you come to listen, you will understand why it’s held to such a high regard as a cornerstone of Western music.”

This oratorio is special to Denison’s musical community as well. Messiah is traditionally performed at Denison every four years, though this upcoming production arrives five years after its predecessor.

Assistant professor and orchestral director Philip Rudd emphasizes the importance of performing large, collaborative works such as Messiah within a collegiate setting.

“There’s a lot of value and enjoyment in putting the orchestral and choral forces together like that,” Rudd said. “The dynamic of working with soloists is also a fun thing because it’s challenging. There’s a lot of coordination involved and a lot of flexibility — listening, watching, anticipating.”

This spirit of collaboration is also present within the choir itself. The Chamber Singers is an audition-based ensemble of 32 students, whereas the Concert Choir is composed of nearly 60 community members and 20 students.

“Having the community there creates a nice symbiotic relationship, and is a reflection of the enduring relationship between Denison and the Newark-Granville area,” Ipock said.

A smaller selection of student soloists will emerge from this large choir to perform the intricate arias of Messiah.

“We have such a great array of extremely talented students that can handle all of these really demanding arias -— they will be the stars of the show in a lot of ways,” Ipock said.

In addition to Handel’s beloved arias, Messiah will also provide a moving finale, concluding with the iconic “Hallelujah” chorus.

“If you’ve never heard ‘Hallelujah’ in concert, you’ve probably heard it in movies and commercials,” Ipock said.“It expresses this unbridled joy and sense of triumph, and that’s why it’s so universally used in pop culture as well.”

With Handel’s legendary compositions and talent from Denison and the community, Messiah promises to be an inspiring performance to ring in the holiday season.

“I’m grateful that we can share Messiah as part of the big weekend of the Granville Candlelight Walking Tour,” Rudd said. “This fits nicely as a sort of kickoff to that weekend. It will be a really nice evening.”

Messiah is free and open to the public. No tickets are required.

November 27, 2023