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Hallelujah! Masterworks Choir set to perform ‘Messiah’

December 6, 2018

FLORENCE, S.C. – The Masterworks Choir will present its annual holiday gift to the Pee Dee region Saturday and Sunday in the form of two performances of one of the most beloved pieces of sacred choral music ever written: George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah.”

The concerts will take place at 7 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday at Central United Methodist Church in downtown Florence.

There is no charge for admission, and no ticket required.

The 72-voice choir will sing the first part of the oratorio, commonly referred to as the Christmas portion, ending with the stirring “Hallelujah Chorus.”

“Messiah” is being performed in observance of the 40th anniversary of the choir, founded in 1979 by the late Dr. William B. Mills for the purpose of bringing live performances of choral masterpieces to the Pee Dee. In addition to its regular performances at Central United Methodist Church and the FMU Performing Arts Center, the highly acclaimed community chorus also has performed in venues across South Carolina and beyond, including Carnegie Hall in 2014, and it will conclude this anniversary season early next summer with its third European tour.

The choir is under the direction of William Carswell, professor of music and vice president of external relations at Coker College. Beverly Hazelwood accompanies on organ and harpsichord and will be joined by a chamber orchestra of 20 instrumentalists.

Guest soloists are Serena Hill-LaRoche, soprano, an active concert artist who teaches voice at the University of South Carolina; and mezzo-soprano Katelyn Tesla, who received her master of music degree in opera theater performance from USC and has studied and performed in several European cities.

Florence native Shaw Thompson will be the featured tenor. He is well known to local audiences, having performed as an actor, director or conductor in more than 50 theatrical productions. He holds a master of music degree in vocal performance from USC and has performed three times at Carnegie Hall under the direction of the late Robert Shaw. Craig Philip Price, a graduate of Furman University and the Manhattan School of Music, is the guest bass-baritone soloist. Price is pursuing his doctoral degree in voice at USC.

George Frideric Handel was one of the great masters of choral music, and “Messiah” is his best-known work – although the genre of the English oratorio was not where he first gained fame. Born in Germany, he composed his first opera at the age of 20 before heading to Italy to study, perform and compose.

By the age of 25, he was an international sensation, considered a master of the Italian opera style. He moved to London, where he spent most of the rest of his life and eventually was made a British subject by his patron (and fellow German) George II.

Handel composed “Messiah” in London over a period of 24 days in 1741. It was debuted as an Easter charitable concert in April of 1742 in Dublin, Ireland, with Handel himself conducting, to instant acclaim. Using Old Testament texts most notably from the 40th chapter of Isaiah, it foretells of the coming of the Messiah. Then the texts switch to Luke’s gospel and tell of the Messiah’s birth.

Although Handel did not originally intend for the Hallelujah Chorus to end the oratorio, it is almost always performed that way today. At its London debut in 1743, with King George in attendance, the audience was so transported by this chorus that it is said the king rose to his feet, and all of the people stood with him, and that tradition has continued for more than 250 years.

The Masterworks Choir has its own cherished tradition for its Christmas concerts. The audience is invited to join the choir and orchestra in singing a moving arrangement of a beloved carol. This is a highlight every year for many attendees.

Masterworks Choir is supported by the philanthropy of local individuals, businesses and foundations. An offering will be taken during the brief intermission.

Parking is available in the church parking lot and also across the street in the free city garage.