The Messiah Is Water Music

An impulse brought me to Amsterdam and Handel brought me to the Concertgebouw. Tis the season for liturgical glory so I signed right up for a performance of The Messiah. I’m neither religious by nature nor Christian by culture, but I’m not a stone either so the “Hallelujah” chorus is a rousing prospect. I regret to admit that I was not moved. I don’t know if I blame the hall or the performers or a spiritual deficiency within me. I felt like I was experiencing the music underwater. I was there, but not there. The performers were there, but “through a glass darkly.” It was the concert equivalent of watching the slow motion life that is controlled and contained within the four flat walls of an aquarium. Even my appreciation of the “Hallelujah” chorus felt tempered and mediated. I wanted to be overcome with feeling, but the sound within the hall was less than overwhelming. I didn’t want “period-correct”; I wanted more singers, more horn players, more, more, more! I felt like the pitiable American who always prefers BIG to the more subtle option.

The concert ended and the crowd went wild. Everyone was on their feet and no one was running for the coat check. I made my way slowly toward the stage so that I could make a quick exit when the clapping stopped. But the clapping didn’t stop until the singers returned onstage to encore their “Hallelujahs.” The glass was broken and suddenly we were all sharing this moment. The singers were no longer singing at the audience, but smiling at each other and connecting with individual people throughout the hall. The horn was triumphant. The basses proclaimed that “he will live for ever and ever” and the other voices rejoiced. I couldn’t move for all the water in my eyes: a room full of Dutch people and I wept openly!

 

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