Standing on tradition
Do audiences outside Britain stand for the "Hallelujah” chorus in Handel's Messiah? I assume not, as the tradition is said to originate from our King George II once standing for this number, possibly to alleviate his gout. The Britten Sinfonia and Polyphony are very models of modern performing ensembles. At last night's Norwich Messiah there was not a tuxedo in sight. But still conductor Stephen Layton gestured expansively for the audience to stand for the words 'Hallelujah, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth'. Isn't classical music strange?
Stephen Layton's used his own edition of the Messiah for the performance. So he missed an opportunity to end the royalist tradition with a pithy annotation in the score. It was a cracking performance from the Britten Sinfonia, Polyphony and four outstanding young soloists. Hearing the Messiah played by a top-of-their-game chamber orchestra on modern instruments in the acoustics of a concert hall underlined just how great Handel's string writing is. For further evidence look no further than the composer's somewhat neglected Concerti Grossi, op. 3. I'll give period instruments the nod on this one and recommend Tafelmusik's recording directed by Jeanne Lamon.
There was certainly nothing traditional about the sound we heard last night. The venue for this Messiah, Norwich's Theatre Royal, has just had the French CARMEN® digital sound enhancement system installed to enhance its dry acoustics. The results, judging by last night's concert and the recent Glyndebourne Hänsel und Gretel, are certainly very impressive. More on this subject in my 2006 article Digital technology builds a virtual concert hall.
Last night's forces are recording the Messiah for release in autumn 2009 as part of the celebrations to mark the 250th anniversary of the composer's death. The two CDs will be released on the Britten Sinfonia's new record label which is a joint venture with innovative independent Signum Classics. There have recently been outstanding new recordings of the Messiah from The Sixteen and Dunedin Consort. (I have to point out that the Dunedin recording on the Linn Records label, which dates from 2006, is also available on vinyl LP). On last night's showing the Britten Sinfonia and Polyphony version should be up there with the best.
Stephen Layton is not usually one to stand on tradition.
The Britten Sinfonia/Polyphony Messiah can also be heard in Ely Cathedral on Dec 18, and St John's, Smith Square on Dec 21, 22 and 23. My ticket for last night's performance was provided free by the Britten Sinfonia as sole payment for chairing the pre-concert talk with three of the soloists. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
Do people outside the U.K. stand for the Hallelujah Chorus? They certainly do in Canada (gee, I wonder why.....), unless they are told not to.
They even stand if it's played as an excerpt in a School Christmas concert (except, in Public schools--not like your Public schools--they're not allowed to say Christmas in order to be P.C.) or by a brass band, etc.
Lot's of people wearing tight knickers? Doubt it.
Oh yes, we "colonists" stand in America for the "Hallelujah!" chorus. I grew up in a large Presbyterian church in the midwest that had the congregation rise and face the Resurrection stained glass window at the rear of the sanctuary (it was an impressive sight).
The King George stories are various, I guess. I heard the one that he fell asleep and that the resounding opening chords of the chorus startled him awake, causing him to jump to his feet.
Now I wonder which British monarch instituted American baseball's 7th inning 'stretch'?
In Canada, yes. A few days ago in Toronto, David Willcocks conducted what was reportedly a superb Messiah, and turned to motion the audience to stand before he began the Hallelujah chorus.
However, I can't recall ever seeing a conductor encourage the audience to stand, nor have I ever seen a program book that instructs people to stand. Occasionally it will be referred to in a historical note, but without an invitation or instruction either way.
I rather enjoy the standing as a sort of seventh inning stretch activity that restores my consciousness to 100% and gives me hope that the end is near.
The super-eager claque are also all inevitably former choristers who feel the need to reinforce the contracted vocal forces with their own contribution.
I like Messiah but it is the "all the world's a stage" aspect of these sorts of things that I find more intriguing.
The question about standing was almost a throwaway line from me.
Who would have thought it would generate one of the biggest ever responses to any of my posts?
As I said in the post - 'Isn't classical music strange?'