December 6, 2012

Getting a handle on Handel


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Champlain Valley Voices ices its 30th anniversary season with G.F. Handel’s “Messiah” at the Plattsburgh United Methodist Church.

“I wanted to do something that everybody likes,” said Dr. Karen Becker, artistic director. “It’s so iconic for the holidays.”

Champlain Valley Voices performed the gear-switching “Too Hot to Handel” at last weekend’s collaborative performance with the SUNY Plattsburgh Gospel Choir.

Becker thought the traditional rendering of “Messiah” was a good counterpoint to Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director Marin Alsop’s jazzy and soulful interpretation of Handel’s classic.

“It seemed like a good fit all the way around,” Becker said. “We have these two alumni who fit in the solo spots beautifully. It was an easy way to feature them, which I love to do.”

Soloists are Maegan Pollanis (mezzo-soprano), Rory Wallace (tenor), Stephanie Jabre (soprano) and Tony Galloro (bass).

“Last time we did Messiah in 2007 was with a full orchestra in Giltz,” Becker said. “This will be a much different experience. We’re just doing it with an organ in the Methodist Church, which is much more acoustically friendly than in Giltz.”

The organist is Lynette Combs of Vermont. 

“She comes from Burlington,” Becker said. “She plays at one of the big churches there. She comes highly recommended and has a great bio. It’s been great to revisit ‘Messiah’ with just the organ. It’s just a lot easier to manage.”

Many of the choir’s community members have sung “Messiah” before, whereas the students in the Choral Union have never sung it.

“It’s been a tricky rehearsal process. You have to keep the people who know it engaged enough. The kids aren’t used to the community people out-singing them. The kids have gotten into learning it,” she said.

Rehearsals were peppered with aha moments when a selection such as the “Hallelujah Chorus” clicked.

“‘Oh, this is where this comes from,’ they say,” Becker said.

Becker introduces a new generation to Handel’s 1741 oratorio.

“Maegan and Rory will knock these solo parts out of the park. I’m interested to see how she (Maegan) sings with a new teacher and environment at Bowling Green State University. Both of them are there. It’s curious to see what direction she’s taking her voice in.”

While students, Pollanis and Wallace sang with the Choral Union and Gospel Choir.

“It comes full circle,” Becker said. “A lot of kids do. I’m always surprised by those who do double and triple duty in other groups.”

The Gospel Choir will make a guest appearance at Saturday’s concert for a redo of Quincy Jones’s gospel arrangement of the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

“The Gospel Choir doesn’t use (sheet) music,” Becker said. “My guys, they all do. To get them to sing without music has been a trick. To get the Gospel Choir to use music has been an equal trick. It certainly has been a dance this semester.”

Saturday’s program includes Champlain Valley Voices signature arrangement of “Silent Night.”

“We do it for all our winter concerts,” Becker said. “It’s my favorite Christmas carol. I like to close every winter concert with that. My group sings it beautifully.”

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IF YOU GO WHAT: "Messiah" by G.F. Handel and presented by Champlain Valley Voices. WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday. WHERE: Plattsburgh United Methodist Church, 127 Beekman St., Plattsburgh. ADMISSION: $12 adults, $10 seniors, and $5 students and children at the door.