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Handel's 'Messiah': A Holiday Tradition

December 03, 1986|MARC SHULGOLD

Handel's "Messiah" is more than just a great oratorio. It is, as Los Angeles Master Chorale music director John Currie points out, "a part of our culture." Particularly at this time of year.

Annually, December in Los Angeles is seemingly populated by nearly as many "Messiahs" as Christmas tree lots.

From the traditional Music Center offering by the Southern California Mormon Choir (Friday) to the traditional Christmas Eve, admission-free performance at Immanuel Presbyterian Church, the season is bountiful for Handelians.

Along with the professional readings, the de rigueur "sing- alongs" arrive. And this year, there's something new: Amateur singers can perform the oratorio under the leadership of Currie and his predecessor, Roger Wagner, on the same day--Dec. 21.

Is this Round 1 of "Messiah Wars"? Hardly, Currie responds with a laugh.

Wagner, reached in Easton, Pa., where he is on tour with his Roger Wagner Chorale, said, "Competing? We're not competing. Orange County is no competition. Otherwise, I'm only conducting in a little church in the Valley . . . " (St. Cyril's church holds 1,000 listeners, according to organist William C. Beck).

Wagner has been on tour most of this fall, first to the Orient, now to the East Coast. He said he will not end until Dec. 19.

Said Currie: "The Music Center presents its participation 'Messiah' every year (in 1986, the dates are Dec. 21-23). There's no reason why he shouldn't lead one or two as well." Wagner will lead his multitudes twice, Dec. 21 in Costa Mesa, plus the Dec. 20 reading in Encino.

Though he is in his first season in Los Angeles, this will not be Currie's first audience-participation experience.

"Seemingly everywhere I've conducted, I've been asked to do a 'Messiah Sing-along.' I had inhibitions at first--I have so much respect for the piece. But I now enjoy the sense of warmth and communication with the audience."

Currie pointed out that he will lead a "straight 'Messiah' " with the L.A. Master Chorale in the spring.

To the season at hand. The following is a sample of the offerings--participatory and otherwise--this month:

Southern California Mormon Choir--Russell Fox leads the chorus and orchestra and an impressive quartet of soloists (Wilhelmenia Fernandez, Shirley Close, Jonathan Mack and Giorgio Tozzi) at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Friday at 8:30 p.m. Information: (213) 972-7211.

Pasadena Chorale and Community Orchestra--Donald Brinegar leads a "Sing-along" at First United Methodist Church, 500 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, on Sunday at 7 p.m. Information: (213) 972-6413.

William Hall Chorale--Hall leads a pair of uncut "Baroque" performances (heavy on ornamentation) with soloists Ruth Golden, Suzanna Guzman, Jonathan Mack and Rodney Gilfrey at Pasadena Presbyterian Church, 585 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, on Dec. 12 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 14 at 3 p.m. Information: (818) 449-7360.

Orange Coast Chorale--Richard Raub conducts at Moore Theatre, Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa on Dec. 13 at 8 p.m.

Roger Wagner's "Sing-alongs"-- The former head of the L. A. Master Chorale leads three do-it-yourself "Messiahs." On Dec. 20 at 7:30 p.m. he will conduct the audience in St. Cyril of Jerusalem Church, 15520 Ventura Blvd., Encino, at 7:30 p.m. (Reservations suggested: (213) 478-3533. Soloists will be Lynda Sue Marks, Janet Smith, Jonathan Mack and Joel Pressman.

On Dec. 21 at 2 and 7 p.m. in Segerstrom Hall, Costa Mesa, Wagner will get assistance from the Master Chorale of Orange County, the Pacific Chorale and Pacific Symphony--as well as the 3,000 in attendance. These events are notable in that they mark the first combined performance of the three Orange County groups. Information: (714) 556-ARTS.

John Currie's "Sing-along"-- The Master Chorale's music director leads his first local "Sing-alongs," joined by the Sinfonia of Los Angeles and soloists Jane Thorngren, Jody Druff, Tom Randle and Thomas Wilcox at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Dec. 21-23 at 8 p.m. Information: (213) 972-7211.

Immanuel Cathedral Choir--Charles Ion leads the traditional Christmas Eve performance at 10:30 p.m. Admission is free, but be warned--arrive early. Turnaway crowds have similarly become a Christmas Eve tradition. Information: (213) 389-3191.

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