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Yannick Nézet-Séguin Reflects on The Meaning of Handel's Messiah

Jenny Marvin/Unsplash

Although Handel’s Messiah is now regularly performed during the Christmas holidays, the work was actually premiered in the spring before Easter. WRTI’s Susan Lewis has more on the fantastically successful masterpiece, which was created by necessity in just 24 days over two centuries ago.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads The Philadelphia Orchestra in a performance of Messiah on WRTI on Sunday, April 12th at 1 PM on 90.1 FM, and streaming at WRTI.org, and again on Monday April 13th at 7 PM on our HD-2 channel and online classical stream.

Radio Script:

MUSIC: Handel's Messiah

Susan Lewis:  Messiah has been performed with different instrumentation and solo parts – with large-scale choirs and even sing-alongs. Yet Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin is drawn to the intimacy – especially in the first part of the work that tells the story of Jesus Christ.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin: It’s more about the little child – the tenderness of Mother and Child, also the joy of angels – but angels always fly in the sky. They never have feet on the ground.

SL: The story of the famous choral work starts in 1741.  Handel—in debt and living in England—was asked to write music for a concert during Lent, when theatrical productions were not permitted. Using a libretto by Charles Jennens, Handel turned to an increasingly popular form of musical storytelling: an oratorio. Yannick says his approach to conducting the work mirrors the story being told.

YNS: The third part is also about reflecting on the mystery of resurrection, after this famous Hallelujah, so then we get majestic and grandiose and this is where the trumpets come in.

SL: The work was first performed in Dublin on April 13th, 1742. 

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.