Handel's "Messiah" inspired Chamber Singers

On Sunday, the Geneseo Chamber singers joined four renowned soloists and members of the Geneseo Symphony Orchestra for a special-event performance of parts one and two of George Handel's "Messiah."

Professor Gerard Floriano, director of the concert and of the Chamber Singers, said the idea for such an event was born out of the 50th reunion for the group, at which Chamber Singers alumnus Dave Turner kicked off a Chamber Singers Endowment Fund that was further grown through a series of generous donations from other alumni. Floriano said that he and Turner discussed potential application of the funds toward not only regional and international tours, but also toward bringing major soloists to Geneseo for Chamber Singers concerts.

Floriano had originally considered holding the "Messiah" concert last fall, but was unable to book Wadsworth Auditorium on such short notice. He noted that while "Messiah" is a very popular piece that is routinely performed in venues around the world, it is not typically performed in the Livingston County area.

In arranging the concert, Floriano said he hoped to provide "a great piece for the students here to learn," as well as a special show for local residents who would ordinarily have to travel to Rochester to hear such a composition.

Although "Messiah" has been performed by choral and orchestral groups with hundreds of members, Floriano said that such bombastic productions can sometimes "obliterate the fine detail of the piece," and that his intention was to "come through with much more clarity with smaller forces" while preserving the musicality and intimacy of the piece so audience members would be able to appreciate the story of Jesus Christ that accompanies the composition. Sunday's performance included a chorus of 42 and an orchestra of 25.

Members of the Geneseo Symphony Orchestra were recruited to accompany the soloists and Chamber Singers for the 43 movements of the work. Floriano had initially intended to hire professional players from Rochester, but GSO conductor James Walker wanted to involve orchestra students in the production. Floriano said the concert was "a fantastic experience for everyone involved" and a great learning opportunity for students.

Soloists were soprano Laura Heimes, class of '90, mezzo-soprano Jami Tyzik, tenor Gregory Kunde and baritone Derrick Smith who sang bass for this performance. Each boasts an impressive repertoire with performances around the nation and world.

Students in Geneseo Chamber Singers said they were enthused to be working with such renowned soloists.

"I'm really excited to work with such great vocalists and sing on the same stage as them … musical talent like this doesn't usually come to Geneseo," said senior Kim Blenkert.

"[Kunde] has worked all around the world; [singing with] someone who's successful is inspiring … it's a great work," said freshman David Keyes.

"This is my third time with this group, I'm really happy to be back," said Tyzik. "This is just one of those pieces that has such spirit and excitement; it doesn't matter who performs this pieces, it still excites the audience." She said Floriano brought "a lot of really vibrant energy … he is breathing new life into the piece."

The performance lasted about two hours, including an intermission, and concluded with the rousing "Hallelujah Chorus," the most famous movement from the three-part work.

"It was absolutely wonderful, it was just a treat to be here," said audience member Mary Jo Terrell of Rochester.

"It was a wonderful undertaking for these groups," said Ellen Best, who drove from Ithaca to see her niece Heimes perform.

Net proceeds from the concert will contribute to the Geneseo Chamber Singers endowment fund.