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Trinity Wall Street’s new concert season launches

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By Terese Loeb Kreuzer

George Frideric Handel’s “Israel in Egypt” was a flop when it debuted in 1739 but that was certainly not the case on Oct. 14 when the Trinity Choir and Trinity Baroque Orchestra conducted by Julian Wachner performed the oratorio as the first offering of Trinity’s 2010-2011 concert season. At the end of the concert, the audience gave the performers a well-deserved standing ovation.

Mr. Wachner became Trinity Wall Street’s Director of Music and The Arts in July after a two-and-a-half year gap in which there was no permanent music director. He chose “Israel in Egypt” as the concert season’s opener because, he said, “it is so chorally based and it was the perfect piece for the choir and I to become acquainted with each other and to really show them off. There is no oratorio that is more choral heavy than this.”

Trinity Choir has always been excellent. In “Israel in Egypt,” the performers were superb. Mr. Wachner conducted with precision and passion, conveying the excitement of a score that is almost cinematic in its depiction of the Israelite’s sorrowful bondage in Egypt, the visitation of plagues on the Egyptians and the flight of the Hebrews through the parted waters of the Red Sea.

Usually performed in two parts, Mr. Wachner resurrected the three-part version of “Israel in Egypt” that Handel created in 1756 when he cobbled portions of some of his other work into a Part I preceding sections entitled “Exodus” and “Moses’ Song.”

“The style of the opening sinfonia was borrowed from the 17th-century French composers Lully and Rameau,” Mr. Wachner explained. “It was made for the king to walk in. At that time, the kings wore big clogs with high heels that made a sound as they walked.”

From that stately opening processional, Part I of “Israel in Egypt” careens through a banquet of choruses, recitatives and arias, ending with an exultant aria for baritone and chorus reinforced with trumpets and kettledrums that proclaims the strength and supremacy of “God our King!”

The final chorus of the entire oratorio is similarly exultant as a soprano recalls “Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron,” who led the Israelite women in song and dance as they rejoiced over the defeat of their enemies. Mr. Wachner and the Trinity musicians raised the roof.

“’Israel in Egypt’ was intended as both religious music and entertainment,” Mr. Wachner said afterward. “If you look at Handel’s list of oratorios, it’s smack in the middle. But in terms of his real move from opera to oratorio, it’s at the beginning of that move. I think he was trying to find how the genre made sense and I think for him these oratorios were definitely seen as entertainment but at the same time they were wrapped up in sacred garb.”

Trinity’s concerts are simultaneously webcast and are available for subsequent viewing on the church’s website. Reflecting his position as Director of Music and The Arts (the first person at Trinity to hold this title), Mr. Wachner chose to integrate artwork into the webcast.

“I sat down with the director and said this is the kind of imagery I’d like,” he said. ”Here’s where I want images. Here’s where I don’t want anything to go against the music. The main purpose of that aspect of the show was for the web viewing audience, which was huge.”

In the future, Mr. Wachner expects to do more with the integration of music and art, including perhaps at some point “either commissioning or having a competition for modern video art to go with ‘Messiah,’ for example, and having a big screen. It would be truly multi-media,” he said enthusiastically.

Handel’s “Messiah” is next on the Trinity Wall Street Choir and Baroque Orchestra’s concert calendar, with performances scheduled for December 12 and December 13.

The Rev. Canon Anne Mallonee, who introduces Trinity’s webcasts, commented on why the church puts so much emphasis on music and the arts. “We believe the arts are transformative,” she said, “and in our world, beauty is much needed. It feeds people’s souls – and that’s what we’re about.”

For information about upcoming concerts or to buy tickets, go to https://www.trinitywallstreet.org/music/choir/

For his debut on Oct. 14 as conductor of Trinity Church’s Trinity Choir and Trinity Baroque Orchestra, Julian Wachner chose Handel’s oratorio, “Israel in Egypt.” The audience gave the performers a standing ovation at the end of the concert.