Mendelssohn's 'Elijah' to be crowning moment of choral fest
EACH APRIL for the past 10 years, singers from around the world have come to Hawaii for the Hawaii International Choral Festival -- a weeklong immersion in a choral-orchestral masterpiece, which is performed for the public in two concerts.
This year, our masterwork is Felix Mendelssohn's crowning composition, the oratorio "Elijah." An oratorio is a dramatic composition for orchestra, chorus and soloists that tells a story, usually based on a religious subject. A musical narration of the great works of the early Jewish prophet as told in the Torah, Old Testament and Quran, "Elijah" is a thrilling musical experience.
HONOLULU SYMPHONY AND CHORUS
Presenting Mendelssohn's "Elijah":
» In concert: 8 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Sunday
» Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
» Tickets: $15 to $68; student tickets $10 (20 percent discount for seniors and military)
» Call: 792-2000 (days) or 524-0815, ext. 245 (evenings), or visit www.honolulusymphony.com
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) was born into a prominent Jewish family in Berlin whose affluence enabled them to pursue interests in the arts and to travel extensively throughout Europe. From a young age, Mendelssohn showed prodigious musical talent, and by his early 20s he had established himself as a concert pianist, conductor and composer. He was particularly popular in German-speaking countries and in the British Isles, which he visited 10 times during his short lifetime.
As was common at the time, the family converted to Christianity in 1816, when Mendelssohn was 7, and joined the Lutheran Church. Mendelssohn seems to have maintained a dual faith in both Judaism and Christianity, although this is hotly contested among music historians. He composed many fine Lutheran anthems, psalm settings and liturgies, as well as three oratorios, most of which balance his religious duality by drawing on the elements the two faiths have in common.
Most famous of all his religious works is the oratorio "Elijah," commissioned in 1837 by England's Birmingham Festival. The premiere took place on Aug. 26, 1846, and the piece was an instant success. "Elijah" has become tremendously popular in English-speaking countries, second only to Handel's "Messiah" for number of performances.
Mendelssohn's life ended within a year of "Elijah's" premiere. His beloved sister Fanny suffered a stroke while rehearsing her brother's dramatic cantata "The First Walpurgis Night" for a private performance. Overcome with grief, within six months Mendelssohn also succumbed to a series of fatal strokes. He was only 38.
As with all gifted artists, Mendelssohn's joyous outpourings live on in his work. "Elijah" is full of many such examples as in the tenor air "If with all your hearts" and the choruses "He watching over Israel," "He that shall endure to the end" and the wonderfully dramatic "Behold, God the Lord" whose "still small voice" emerges after whirlwind, tempest, earthquake and fire.
World-famous English choral director Sir David Willcocks leads the Honolulu Symphony and Chorus, guest soloists soprano Karina Gauvin, mezzo-soprano Margaret Lattimore, tenor Alan Bennett and bass Leon Williams, as well as choral singers from around in the world, in two gala performances this weekend. Please join us to experience the crowning glory of the festival: Mendelssohn's "Elijah."
Composer Jerre Tanner is a longtime member of the Honolulu Symphony Chorus.