Voices can join ‘Messiah’ singing at Christmas baroque concert

Oct 30, 2022

MIDDLEBORO — The Mayflower Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of J. Fred Thornton, will present its pandemic-postponed program from 2021, “A Baroque Christmas: Music from 18th Century Europe,” Nov.  12 and 13.

Both performances are free to the public, although a donation of $10 to $20 to help pay for the orchestral musicians is suggested.

The Nov. 12 concert will be held at the St. Vincent de Paul Parish Hall, 53 Oak St., Middleboro, starting at 7:30 p.m. That performance had originally been scheduled for Sts. Martha and Mary Church in Lakeville but was moved because that church is temporarily without heat.

The Nov. 13 performance will be held at the Central Congregational Church, 2 Webster St., Middleboro, starting at 3 p.m. Both buildings are wheelchair-accessible. Pandemic protocols such as the wearing of masks are suggested but not required. 

The orchestra consists of freelance musicians who play with other orchestras on the South Shore. In the past they accompanied the Mayflower Chorale from 1984 through its last “Messiah Sing” in 2004, and the Chorale’s successor, the Mayflower Camerata, since 2016. 

Their performances have included major works by Bach (the “Mass in B Minor”), Handel, Gluck (“Orfeo and Euridice”), Haydn (“The Creation”, “The Seasons”, and the “Lord Nelson Mass”), Mozart (“Mass in C Minor” and the “Requiem”), Beethoven (the Ninth Symphony and “Choral Fantasy”), Mendelssohn (“Elijah”), and requiems by Brahms, Faure, and Rutter. 

This Baroque Christmas program will include music primarily from Italy and Germany, but also from the Netherlands and England. 

From Italy there will be three “Christmas Concertos” for string orchestra by Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713), Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709), and Francesco Manfredini (1684-1762) as well as the little “Christmas Symphony” by Gaetano Schiassi (1698-1754). 

These four works, of which Corelli’s is probably the earliest and certainly the best known, all feature a Christmas Eve “Pastorale”, a dance in a lilting 12/8 rhythm with simple harmonies, depicting the shepherds watching their flocks in anticipation. Probably the most familiar example is the one in Part 1 of Handel’s “Messiah.”

Germany is represented by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and his “Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D Major,” for strings, woodwinds, trumpets, and tympani. This, as well as with the remaining pieces on the program, was not specifically composed for the Christmas season, but certainly captures its celebratory spirit. Also from Germany is an unusual little work by Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), the “Concerto for Four Unaccompanied Violins in D Major”.

From the Netherlands the concert will feature the “Concerto Armonico No. 1 in G Major” by the virtually unknown but very talented Count Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer. 

Lastly, from England, the concerts will close with the “Hallelujah!” Chorus from ”Messiah” by that transplanted German, George Frederic Handel (1685-1759). “Messiah”, like all of Handel’s oratorios, was composed for performance during Lent, but since the 18th century it has become a staple for the Christmas season. This may be performed at the Sunday afternoon concert with voices, along with the “Hallelujah” from “Christ on the Mount of Olives” by Beethoven (not baroque, but certainly in the right spirit). 

Those wishing to join in the singing of these two choral pieces should contact the director at j.fred.thornton@comcast.net. A rehearsal is set for Friday, Nov. at 7:30 p.m. at Central Congregational Church, and a “dress rehearsal” with the orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10 at St. Vincent de Paul Parish Hall.

These concerts are supported primarily by grants from the local cultural councils of Lakeville, Middleboro, Berkley, Bridgewater, Carver, Freetown, Halifax, Plymouth, Plympton, Raynham, Rochester, and Wareham. These local agencies are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.