Too Hot to Handel: The Gospel Messiah

Handel’s Messiah (With A Twist)

George Frideric Handel was on a roll in the spring of 1742, when he premièred his great oratorio, the Messiah. It was reported in the Dublin Journal by an anonymous critic that: “On Tuesday last Mr. Handel’s Sacred Grand Oratorio, the Messiah, was performed at the New Music-Hall in Fishamble Street. The Sublime, the Grand, and the Tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestik moving Words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished Heart and Ear.” The sensational new appeal of Too Hot To Handel has been met with the same enthusiasm as it was when the ink was fresh in 1742.

More than two hundred and fifty years later, Handel’s Messiah remains one of the most performed and popular choral works and is appreciated by audiences all over the globe. Instantly recognizable is the “Hallelujah Chorus,” which always gets people on their feet during performances of the Messiah. It is exactly that sense of excitement that prompted conductor Marin Alsop to suggest giving Handel’s Messiah a new twist. Too Hot To Handel grew from an idea to fruition in the hands of Alsop’s colleagues: Gary Anderson and Bob Christianson, who recreated this gospel/jazz version adaptation of the Messiah in 1992.

Alsop, in collaboration with Anderson and Christianson, envisioned the Messiah in a way that captures a fresh “feel” and thrill, while still retaining Handel’s original musical intent. “It’s a great story, but I also think that it requires some kind of audience participation. It becomes an active listening experience, when you’re allowed to stand up or clap your hands,” says Alsop, who wanted to relax the perception  of quiet, polite classical audience and turn the performance into a participatory event. The creative team of Alsop/Anderson/Christianson decided their adaptation would encompass jazz, gospel, rock and funk—to “break the classical sound barrier.”

The result is a swinging performance of the traditional oratorio.

© 2009 Ella M. Fredrickson, Too Hot, LLC