The Maine Music Society will present its biennial holiday performances of Handel’s oratorio “Messiah” Dec. 4 in Portland and Dec. 5 in Lewiston. Arguably one of the best works of the choral literature and certainly one of the most popularly enduring, “Messiah” has been performed nearly every year since its first appearance more than 260 years ago.

Handel conceived the work as a musical expression of the Christian doctrine of salvation for mankind through the birth and suffering of Christ. In a more generalized sense, “Messiah” conveys the feelings common to all mankind of joyful expectation, grief and transcendence.

Although “Messiah” was originally envisioned as an Eastertide performance, the oratorio, especially in this country, has long been associated with the Christmas season. This derives from the bright, pastoral and delightful music of the first part of the work, which treats the Annunciation.

Handel is said to have composed this great work in a compressed trance of creative energy amounting to just 21 days. When asked of his feelings as he wrote, Handel is said to have replied, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God himself.”

Noting several years ago the absence of “Messiah” performances as a staple of the musical holiday offerings, Maine Music Society resolved to perform the work every second year in Maine’s two largest cities.

Appearing this year as soloists with the Maine Chamber Ensemble and the Androscoggin Chorale will be soprano Susan Strickland, mezzo-soprano Sara Sturdivant, tenor Richard Gammon, and baritone John Adams.

Strickland earned her degree in vocal performance at UCLA. She has appeared as soloist in Massachusetts and Maine, including earlier performances with the Androscoggin Chorale.

Sturdivant completed her degree in vocal performance at USM. Her performances include both operatic and oratorio roles. Gammon is a graduate of both New England Conservatory and Southern Illinois University Carbondale and already has several opera roles to his credit. Adams has performed opera and oratorio on both coasts of the United States. Both he and Gammon appeared in PORTopera Maine’s Emerging Artists production of “Giannia Schicchi” this past summer.

Conductor Peter Frewen has shaped the vast, all-encompassing work of Handel to proportions more fitted to holiday audiences while retaining the aesthetic and narrative sweep of the whole. By presenting the entire first part (Annunciation), the central core of the second part (Passion), and major portions of the third part (Resurrection), he assures that audiences will hear the most beloved choruses and airs, including the “Hallelujah Chorus” and “I know that my Redeemer liveth” – and yet comprehend the context and continuity of the artistic whole.

Tickets are available in Portland at Starbird Music, in Brunswick at MacBeans’ Music, at Lewiston and Auburn Hannaford and Shaw’s supermarkets, and in Lewiston at Mr. Paperback and Nellie’s Music (Mainely Drumz). For information, call the Maine Music Society at 782-1403.

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