George Frideric Handel composed the music for his oratorio “Messiah" in the summer of 1741. Since then, the 260-page manuscript has had a lasting impact on the world of Christianity.
Although “Messiah” performances are most common during the Christmas season, Handel’s work was originally created for an Easter benefit concert. Now, nearly 275 years after that first performance, music groups around the globe continue to celebrate the life of Jesus Christ through the songs of “Messiah.”
In early March, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square announced that they would publicly perform the entire “Messiah” over Easter weekend (Friday, April 18, and Saturday, April 19) in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. The response was overwhelming.
“Messiah” depicts the earthly life of Christ in three musical acts, beginning with biblical prophesies of his birth and ending with his resurrection and ascension to heaven.
It has been a decade since the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square have performed a full Easter concert — so those involved with the “Messiah” production knew that many would want to attend.
“There was a sense that demand would be great,” said Scott Barrick, general manager of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. “We knew people would want to see it. This is possibly the most beloved oratorio and most beloved choir.”
The enthusiasm for the concert, however, was greater than expected. All available tickets for both Friday and Saturday night were gone in less than eight minutes.
According to Barrick, the sounds and style of “Messiah” make it necessary to perform with the acoustics and layout of the Tabernacle, which seats only around 2,800.
After the initial tickets were gone so quickly, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir staff came up with three alternative ways to view the Easter concert. “Messiah” will be simulcast to the LDS Conference Center Little Theater and to the Legacy Theater in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. Tickets, which are no longer available, were distributed by request and via random selection during the month of March. These broadcasts will allow an additional 2,600 people to view the performance near Temple Square.
For those still without tickets, both Friday and Saturday’s concerts will be streamed live on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s website at mormontabernaclechoir.org/messiah and on demand at YouTube.com/MormonTabChoir.
This large desire for “Messiah” tickets is a testament of the popularity of the oratorio. Despite having been around for hundreds of years, the masterwork of “Messiah” still touches the hearts and lives of listeners today.
“I think that 'Messiah' is the most popular piece of choral music that exists,” Barrick said. “It is steeped in peoples’ traditions, and there is a breadth of familiarity. The scriptural text that forms the lyrics is the gospel in its simplest form.”
The performance, which is 2½ hours long, will feature the famous “Hallelujah Chorus.” This chorus is featured on “He Is Risen,” the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s 2014 Easter album.
According to Barrick, the performances in the Tabernacle this year are part of a larger recording effort to make all of “Messiah” permanently available to listeners. A full recording of the concert is scheduled to be available for purchase through Deseret Book next spring.
Listeners who want to prepare for this weekend’s recording are encouraged to visit the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s website, where a full program, complete with lyrics and scripture references, is available.
“For those who are familiar with ‘Messiah,’ I hope that this will be a re-acquaintance with everything they’ve always loved,” Barrick said. “For those who have never seen the performance, I hope they can feel the spirit of Easter in a way they haven’t before.”