When first presented in London in 1743, Handel's "Messiah" was condemned as blasphemous. Since then, it has become a beloved favorite of the holiday season. This love was evident last night when the Paul Hill Chorale and Festival Symphony Orchestra led the 15th annual "Messiah Sing-Along" at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
Leading a chorus of almost 3,000 voices is surely demanding, but conductors Paul Hill, Karen Landis of the Chesapeake Chorale, Barry Hemphill of the Arlington Metropolitan Chorus, Robert McCord of the Fairfax Choral Society and Martin Feinstein of the Washington Opera all met the challenge in turn with humor and grace, conducting first audience, then orchestra, and appearing to enjoy themselves as much as the standing-room-only audience. More importantly, though, the vocal power and projection of the Paul Hill Chorale anchored the audience's singing through many of the difficult sections of the "Messiah."
Although undermanned in the tenor section, the audience provided itself solid renditions of "Behold, the Lamb of God" and, of course, the "Hallelujah" chorus. And if diction waned in other sections, the force of all the voices still filled the hall majestically.
While the evening was billed as a sing-along, the audience was treated to solo airs as well. Mezzo-soprano Marcia Roberts, tenor Thomas Jones and baritone Dwight Brooks all performed competently, but soprano Daisy Jackson stood out with a voice to match the expansive concert hall, singing with strong control, range and feeling. The orchestra -- drowned out under the weight of the chorus -- ably backed the soloists.
At the concert's end, the singers in the audience -- if somewhat weakened in voice from the performance -- gave a standing ovation to both themselves and the musicians on stage.