Friday, 29 March 2013

Sir Herbert Brewer & Handel's Messiah

In December of 1927 the Bristol Choral Society gave their annual performance of Messiah at the Colston Hall, Bristol.  Brewer had the idea of inviting the audience to join in with the Hallelujah Chorus. The idea was received by ‘wiser’ heads with some trepidation. However things turned out well:-
“I can only say thank-you. I think it is safe to say nothing has ever been heard like that in this country before.” said Sir Herbert Brewer, greatly moved by what had just occurred, to an audience of over three thousand at Colston Hall, Bristol, on Saturday night.
Sir Herbert has announced previously that he would ask the audience to rise and join in singing the Hallelujah Chorus.
As a result of this the greater portion of the audience brought with them copies of the [qv] Messiah. He asked those who knew the chorus and intended singing to do so with the reference due to so great a work.
With the society’s chorus of 400, a full orchestra and the Colston Hall orchestra – one of the finest in the country – the audience sang in perfect harmony. Sopranos, contraltos, tenors and basses, in all parts of the hall, sang their respective parts. Perfect time was kept, and so impressive was the rendering that many were in tears.
The climax came before the final Hallelujah. There was a silence while Sir Herbert held his baton aloft for a second or two; then the four final chords crashed out with wonderful effect. Sir Herbert Brewer’s daring experiment had been justified. 

1 comment:

Bristol Choral Society said...

We don't know how long this continued, if at all (certainly not into the modern era, and probably not past Sir Thomas Beecham's appointment for the following 1928-9 season).

However, we still perform Messiah at Colston Hall on the Saturday before Christmas, but the idea of doing something different at the Bristol Messiah continues:

Since 2006 we have performed the whole work from memory, in a style that would be the envy of many a chamber choir, with baroque orchestra these days of course (most usually led by renowned baroque violinist Margaret Faultless), and

In 2010 we started something completely unique: adding an abridged afternoon performance called a 'Mini Messiah family concert'. Repeated annually since, it has proved to be enormously popular with, and loved by, families, provoking an audience reaction that is almost unbelievable - in fact one could quote Sir Herbert Brewer from your article "I think it is safe to say nothing has ever been heard like that in this country before” - in terms of that reaction for a 'classical concert'.

We started this in response to the fact that the tradition of parents taking their children to Messiah at Christmas seemed to stop a generation or two ago (in Bristol at least), and this seemed a great way to introduce the 'lost generations' - the children and their parents - to just what they are missing, and to ensure the future of the Bristol Messiah for years to come.

Another interesting connection - our current conductor (Adrian Partington, since 2000) became the second conductor in our history, after Sir Herbert Brewer, to simultaneously hold the post of Director of Music at Gloucester Cathedral following Adrian's appointment to that position in 2008.
So, 80-something years after Sir Herbert Brewer made the weekly trip down to Bristol to take rehearsals, Adrian Partington follows that path from the very same house in the grounds of Gloucester Cathedral - although one imagines it's rather more convenient in the 21st century with the existence of the M5!