Martin Majkut will conduct the Rogue Valley Symphony's production of Handel's 'Messiah.'

Holidays to hit a high note

The Rogue Valley Symphony’s Christmas program will be George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah,” with RVS Music Director Martin Majkut conducting and the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers and special guest soloists joining the orchestra.

“Messiah” is an oratorio, or concert piece, that had its premiere in 1742. It was written in English to be performed with choir and soloists rather than an opera in which the story is enacted dramatically.The famed work, which got only a luke warm reception when it debuted, depicts the life of Jesus as told in the King James Bible and other material from the Old Testament’s Psalms.

Rising opera stars soprano Lindsay Ohse, mezzo-soprano Sarah Mattox, tenor Zach Finkelstein and baritone José Rubio will be the featured soloists.

Performances are set for Thursday, Dec. 3, at the Grants Pass Performing Arts Center, Friday, Dec. 4, at Southern Oregon University’s Music Recital Hall in Ashland and Saturday, Dec. 5, at the Collier Center for the Performing Arts (formerly The Craterian) in Medford. All are slated to begin at 7:30 p.m.

“It is truly astonishing to find so many ‘heavenly’ tunes in a single piece of music,” RVS Conductor Martin Majkut says. “Far beyond the immortal ‘Hallelujah Chorus,’ this oratorio is like a treasure chest packed with musical gems. Every time we return to it, we find more to like.”

The famed "Hallelujah Chorus" is not the oratorio’s culmination. It occurs in the second movement, which focuses on Christ’s Passion. Part One begins with Old Testament prophesies, while the third and final section deals with the resurrection of the dead and the glorification of Jesus in Heaven.

Majkut says this year the show will offer a slightly different selection from the long piece’s score in hopes of giving audiences “several fresh reasons to fall in love” with the famed composition.

There are many different versions of “The Messiah,” with early experiments adapting it to a larger scale than Handel envisioned, sometimes including truly giant orchestras and choirs. At one point the oratorio was modified by Mozart. More recent innovations have been closer to Handel’s original scale. Whatever the selections, the leads will be sung by stars in the making.

“This year’s soloists are important young artists who are making careers for themselves in the Northwest and internationally,” Majkut says.

All four are new to the RVS. Ohse, who lives in New York City, has performed with the Portland Opera, the Seattle Chamber Singers, the Santa Fe Opera and Pittsburgh’s Resonance Opera Works Company. She performs both operatic and concert repertoire. Mattox is a first-prize winner of the Belle Voci National Competition and has sung principal roles with Seattle Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Palm Beach Opera, Chicago Opera and Theater, Lyric Opera Cleveland and many other companies.

The American-Canadian Finkelstein has performed in venues from Seattle’s Benaroya Hall to New York City’s Lincoln Center to London’s Sadler’s Wells to the National Arts Center in Beijing. He is known for his interpretations of Handel, as well as Bach, Mozart and others. Robio has performed at major venues across the nation, recently making an acclaimed Carnegie Hall debut and completing a tour of China. He says he’s equally comfortable on the opera stage or in the concert hall. He recently played the title role in “The Barber of Seville” with Tacoma Opera.

“Their careers on national stages are a guarantee that you will leave the concert hall 'on a high note,’ so to speak,” Majkut says.

Tickets range from $22 to $55, with special student prices, a limited number of $15 seats and $5 seating for Oregon Trail Card holders at the Grants Pass show. Call 541-708-6400, see rvsymphony.org or, for the Medford performance, visit craterian.org or call 541 779-3000.

Bill Varble writes about arts and entertainment for the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at varble.bill@gmail.com.

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