Hailing the Messiah: Handel’s masterpiece to be centerstage with Philharmonic

Sandy Zimmerman occasionally thinks that she is a listener as much as performer with the Philharmonic Chorus.

“When all of those people get together and they start singing, there is nothing but beautiful energy around me,” Zimmerman said. “Sometimes, when I go (to rehearsal), I may be tired. But by the time I leave there, I’m in much better health than when I arrived.”

Zimmerman, a Columbus resident and a member of the chorus for 31 years, will be surrounded by that beautiful energy and then some when the 80-voice chorus joins area high school choral students and the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic to perform Handel’s “Messiah” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Columbus’ Judson Erne Auditorium. The concert is expected to be sold out.

The full choir is expected to number 140.

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“It’s such an incredible work,” said Zimmerman, who has performed selections from the English-language oratorio twice before with the chorus and orchestra.

Some choral societies view it as so incredible that they perform it annually. David Bowden, Philharmonic music director and also the chorus leader, loves the idea that teen singers will join the chorus for the presentation of this work as they did in 2019.

“That’s part of my passion (with students), because I want them to love this as much as I do,” said Bowden, a longtime advocate of blending local students into the professional orchestra’s concerts.

Yet, forget thinking he’s lowering his bar of excellence that has won ample praise through the years. Because the maestro promised “an absolutely stunning professional production,” as he put it.

A similar arrangement with high schoolers earned strong, positive feedback from the ensemble’s audience in 2013, the last time the Philharmonic tackled the piece that highlights the birth, life and Resurrection of Jesus. Though the public commonly links it to a segment of the Christmas season, it originally was written for Easter, according to music scholars.

Chorus member Beth Poor remembers the December 1991 concert in which a scaled-down, chamber-style Philharmonic and a special 24-voice Philharmonic Chorus at First Christian Church performed the entire three-hour Messiah, complete with a meal at intermission.

“I was just so excited to be included for it,” she said. “We certainly had a great time doing it.”

But Poor’s initial interaction with the piece dates to her high school days in which she performed the work with a community chorus and a Chicago Heights, Illinois, orchestra.

“The choruses are so melodic,” Poor said.

Soloists for this concert are Cathy Berns Rund, countertenor Andrew Rader, tenor Justin Moniz, all familiar to recent Philharmonic audiences and baritone Joseph Andreola.

Bowden, a fervent Christian long known for an over-the-top enthusiasm for works that the Philharmonic performs, let his street-style exuberance show when asked his reaction to standing amid 140 blended voices praising God in such a piece.

“It,” Bowden said, “is a real jack.”

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What: The Columbus Indiana Philharmonic and the Philharmonic Chorus performing selections from Handel’s "Messiah."

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Judson Erne Auditorium, 1400 25th St.

Tickets: $10 to $50, available at the cip.org

Information: 812-376-2638 or thecip.org