COM­MU­NITY CHO­RUS DOES ‘JU­DAS MACCABAEUS’

Han­del’s ‘Ju­das Maccabaeus’ con­certs are rare and a first in Taos

Tempo - - CONTENTS - By T.L. Tester­man

Taos Com­mu­nity Cho­rus does not re­quire an au­di­tion or the abil­ity to read mu­sic to join. Although Taos al­ready has a deep tal­ent pool, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t sung since your days in that col­lege rock band, or you are a morn­ing song­bird in the shower. The only re­quire­ment for mem­ber­ship is that you show up for prac­tice ev­ery week for two and a half hours. Re­mark­ably, for 39 years, the TCC has pre­sented pol­ished per­for­mances of chal­leng­ing ma­te­rial to ova­tions and stand­ing-room-only au­di­ences.

Anna Mae Pat­ter­son, a TCC mem­ber and self-de­scribed “quasi­his­to­rian,” said the up­com­ing con­cert of Han­del’s “Ju­das Maccabaeus” is rare and a first in Taos. The or­a­to­rio is about the Jewish strug­gle for re­li­gious free­dom, and the mu­sic evokes heart­break, pas­sion, pur­pose and victory against all odds. Per­for­mances are planned Satur­day and Sun­day (May 12-13), 3 p.m., at St. James Epis­co­pal Church 208 Camino de San­ti­ago. There is no charge for the pub­lic.

Two con­certs took place last week­end at First Pres­by­te­rian Church of Taos.

“Ju­das Maccabaeus,” com­posed in 1746, is an or­a­to­rio in three acts. The events take place from 170–160 BC when Judea, ruled by the Seleu­cid Em­pire, set out to de­stroy the Jewish religion. Or­dered to wor­ship Zeus, many Jews obeyed un­der the threat of per­se­cu­tion

An el­derly priest named Mat­tathias de­fied the Em­pire and killed a fel­low Jew who was about to of­fer a pa­gan sac­ri­fice. Mat­tathias then de­stroyed the pa­gan al­tar and re­treated to the nearby hills to gather oth­ers in the fight for their faith. Ju­das Maccabaeus, the son of Mat­tathias and their leader, won the tem­ple in Jerusalem back by 164 BC. Han­del’s mu­sic de­picts the emo­tional roller coaster of the Jewish peo­ple in this epic jour­ney, from dark­ness to sweet victory.

Erik Brun­ner, TCC’s mu­sic di­rec­tor wrote this in his con­duc­tor notes about the work, “I am per­son­ally very fond of this great choral work. It is hardly ever per­formed in mod­ern times; to my mind a very sig­nif­i­cant loss to the lis­ten­ing pub­lic. Han­del’s fab­u­lously in­ven­tive com­po­si­tion is anal­o­gous in scope and con­cept to the great epic movies of Ce­cil B. DeMille in the 1950s and 60s.”

Pat­ter­son con­tin­ued, “The per­for­mance of Ju­das Maccabaeus is timely because of the rise in an­tiSemitism in the world and because there is a long his­tory of the re­li­gious strug­gle in the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. We need to call at­ten­tion to this strug­gle. This is not just a mu­si­cal chal­lenge but also a call to be sen­si­tive to is­sues and the im­pulse for jus­tice in our time. This is im­por­tant in Taos where we have so much spir­i­tual di­ver­sity, and we are just learn­ing to lis­ten to each other.”

Claire De­tels, the pian­ist and assistant choir di­rec­tor, is a mu­si­col­o­gist and taught mu­sic his­tory for 25 years be­fore set­tling in Taos four years ago. De­tels said this con­cert pro­gram is his­tor­i­cally speak­ing, “very ex­cit­ing. Lon­don au­di­ences (in the mid-1700s) had just ex­pe­ri­enced the rev­o­lu­tion­ary at­tempts of a takeover. They were ready to cel­e­brate a victory in the mu­sic. There is joy, ela­tion and tri­umph.” The Ja­co­bite re­bel­lion had fi­nally been ended by a Bri­tish gov­ern­ment victory at the Bat­tle of Cul­lo­den.

She con­tin­ued, “As a choir, we are fo­cused on mas­ter­ing the mu­sic. This is a long piece, with 20 to 30 dif­fer­ent cho­ruses each with a dif­fer­ent rhythm, melody, dic­tion and pro­nun­ci­a­tion to learn...it’s a la­bor of love for these un­paid [TCC] vol­un­teers.”

She said pre­par­ing for the per­for­mances goes far be­yond learn­ing the notes. “It goes to mak­ing a per­for­mance ef­fec­tive, one that will leave the au­di­ence think­ing and talk­ing about it long af­ter it is over.”

Taos na­tive and tenor soloist Sal­man Lee is ex­cited to per­form the role of Ju­das Maccabaeus. “This is the most epi­cally tenor heroic mu­sic I’ve worked on in my life ... I am a queer man. This is so beau­ti­ful as a singer and as a hu­man be­ing to ex­plore a vi­ral mas­cu­line part of your­self...I’m lov­ing it.”

Lee said he was “moved to tears and goose­bumps and jump­ing out of my seat lis­ten­ing to the choir dur­ing re­hearsals. If you’re prone to be moved by clas­si­cal mu­sic, this will move you. This mu­sic show­cases the vir­tu­oso tal­ents of Han­del as a com­poser...with a com­pletely dif­fer­ent plot. I pre­fer it over his more fa­mous Mes­siah.”

Fea­tured soloists for the con­certs in­clude Taos alto singer Ju­lia Arm­strong, Al­bu­querque bass singer Paul Bower, Los Alamos bass Tjett Ger­dom and Jen­nifer Perez, a so­prano from Al­bu­querque. In­stru­men­tal­ists for the con­certs in­clude Taos cel­list Rebecca Caron and Vickie Ford on the harp­si­chord.

For more in­for­ma­tion, call the venue at (575) 758-2790.

COUR­TESY PHOTO

SAL­MAN LEE

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