Handel - Messiah - Wimbledon - Sonoro & Wimbledon Community Chorus

I played first trumpet in a performance of Handel’s Messiah on Saturday 18th of March 2017 at St. John’s Church, on Spencer Hill in Wimbledon. The performance involved members of the pro-choir Sonoro, the Wimbledon Community Chorus and the Sonoro Baroque Ensemble, led by Susie Carpenter-Jacobs.

The performance was conducted by one of the Artistic Directors of Sonoro, Neil Ferris [who has recently been appointed as the Chorus Director of the BBC Symphony Chorus - congratulations Neil]. Thanks must go to the Wimbledon Community Chorus’ own Chorus Director, Soo Bishop. She told me that many of the singers in the choir had learnt to sing the choruses in Handel’s Messiah ‘by rote’, as not all of the members currently read musical notation. The Wimbledon Community Chorus has a very encouraging and inclusive ethos. Singing Handel’s ‘Messiah’ is a challenge, by anyone’s standards. Learning it by rote is a remarkable achievement. Teaching it to the choir must have required a good deal of dedication and energy.

The concert began with a short pre-concert talk. After Neil Ferris talked about the importance of Handel's ‘Messiah’, Susie Carpenter-Jacobs talked about the baroque violin and the differing bow types over the ages. She explained what she would be using for the performance and why, giving examples on each of the alternatives and the historically-informed bow of choice. The oboist, Jane Downer, talked about the principal differences between the modern and baroque oboe and raised a good laugh from the audience calling it ‘the chair leg’. I introduced the natural trumpet, the sound “which electrifies men and horses on the battlefield” and I talked of its symbolism of Earth, War, God and Kings. I played the (overtone-rich) bottom Ds on ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords’ from the Hallelujah chorus and implied that the audience may (!) notice them in the performance. I talked specifically of the symbolism of the “last trumpet” (and the day of judgment) in Handel’s ‘Messiah’. The fanfare that begins the bass aria, ‘The Trumpet Shall Sound’ was the fanfare that was played as the Judge entered a British courtroom. (I played an example of it). Additionally, I explained that the natural trumpet is twice as long as a modern trumpet and that it predates valves (by several centuries). I mentioned that the particular trumpet I was playing on was a replica of a trumpet from 1746, and the replica was made in Wimbledon by Frank Tomes. This was the last trumpet that he ever made so it has a degree of significance when I play ‘The Trumpet Shall Sound’ as I remember the great times learning from and working with Frank in his workshop in Merton Park. I also mentioned that I had many of my natural trumpet lessons with Michael Laird in Wimbledon - both Michael Laird and Frank Tomes lived within a 1-mile radius of St. John’s Church, SW19.

It was a great idea to introduce the audience to the work and some of the instruments being used, in this short pre-concert talk. The performance that followed was also very good. The solo arias of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ were sung by members of Sonoro, who were all excellent. The chorus did a great job and Neil Ferris provided us all with a lot of enthusiasm! The concert ended with heartfelt, rapturous applause.

Russell Gilmour
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writing on music, photography, engraving, travel and life as a freelance professional musician.