Conductor Stan Engebretson of Bethesda says he first sang the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s “Messiah” as a teenager.
“I started singing it in high school and began directing it after college,” says Engebretson, who in 2004 began presenting the work every year as artistic director of the National Philharmonic Chorale based at the Music Center at Strathmore.
Engebretson again will be conducting “Messiah” on Saturday, Dec. 22, and Sunday, Dec. 23, at the center in North Bethesda.
Associate conductor Victoria Gau also will give a pre-concert talk about the work before the performance.
Despite his long familiarity with the Baroque work about the life and meaning of Jesus, Engebretson says that, depending on the choir and also the professional soloists who bring their own interpretations to the music, the music never sounds exactly the same.
Performing this year are soprano Danielle Talamantes who lives in Northern Virginia, and tenor Matthew Smith, who lives in Washington, D.C., says Engebretson.
Also singing are mezzo-soprano Magdalena Wor from Atlanta and bass Kevin Deas from the New York City area.
They will be performing with the volunteer National Philharmonic chorale of 170 singers and the National Philharmonic orchestra, Engebretson says.
The challenge of directing such a large and diverse group is to fully bring out the emotion in the work composed by George Frideric Handel in England.
“We’re always striving to find the dramatic impact,” Engebretson says.
German born and trained, Handel lived and worked in England, composing “Messiah” in 1741. The English words were compiled by Charles Jennens from the King James version of the Bible and the prayer book of the Anglican Church.
First performed in Dublin in 1742, “Messiah” tells the story of Jesus’ life, resurrection and teachings as spread through the gospel.
“Handel was such a master in how the music and text fit so perfectly,” Engebretson says.
“[In one section] he uses tone painting ... a series of fast notes to evoke the sound of sheep going astray,” he says.
“The music is so colorful — that’s why it’s survived so well,” Engebretson says. “The music just makes the holiday.”