Conductor and collaborator Kedrick Armstrong returns to Galesburg to lead members of the Knox-Galesburg Symphony, a chorus of local and regional singers, and soloists on Sunday, Dec. 19 for Part 1 of Handel’s “Messiah.”

Better known as the Christmas portion of this masterwork oratorio, the abridged “Messiah” concert will feature Kirsten Leslie Karadzhova, soprano; Rachel Vickers, mezzo-soprano; Lucas Wood, tenor; and Thomas Clark, bass-baritone. The performance begins at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 19 and will take place at Central Congregational Church, at 60 Public Square in downtown Galesburg. This concert is free and open to the public; donations will be accepted at the door.

In accordance with CDC and IDPH guidelines, masks or approved face coverings are required while indoors. Support for this performance comes from the City of Galesburg, Blick Art Materials, and the Illinois Arts Council Agency. 

Composed in just over three weeks, George Fredric Handel’s setting of the story of the Messiah is not only one of the most iconic examples of Baroque Oratorio, it contains some of the most celebrated music of the Western canon, according to a Tuesday release. “An epic work which, in its entirety, tells the story of Jesus’s life from the first prophecies to the Ascension, the Messiah was originally an Easter offering,” it notes.

The classic abridged version — lasting approximately 60 minutes and including Part One and the finale “Hallelujah!” chorus — has become a beloved holiday tradition across the world. The original score was written for a relatively small handful of singers and instrumentalists and was often performed at both Easter and Christmas, the release said.

Over time, however, it became a Christmas production — and the forces performing it often became quite massive. These large performances give Messiah some real heft and power, according to the release. “But by presenting it in a manner more in line with what Handel intended — and closer to the way the KGS members and singers will perform it, with a smaller orchestra and a chorus of just over 20 singers — the audience will experience Messiah much like the first audience heard it,” says Lucas Wood, executive director of the Knox-Galesburg Symphony.  

Lucas Wood is executive director of the Knox-Galesburg Symphony.

Handel’s Messiah received its world premiere on April 13, 1742, in the Great Music Hall in Dublin, Ireland, to an audience of 700 people. In order to fit as many people into the hall as possible, the men were asked to remove their swords and the ladies were to refrain from wearing hoops under their dresses, the release said.

This performance was part of a series showcasing Handel’s new compositions and the concert proceeds were divided among various charitable organizations in Dublin. Keeping with the charitable tradition, a portion of the proceeds from the Galesburg performance on Dec. 19 will be distributed to local charitable organizations. 

“As we continue to navigate a world changed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, music brings us solace and familiarity,” Wood said. ” ‘Comfort ye my people.’ This opening text of Messiah summarizes the spirituality of music – we are all united together through harmonies and texture and encouraged to simply listen and feel the peace and togetherness that this work has brought audiences for more than two centuries.”

Conductor Kedrick Armstrong (who graduated from Wheaton College) is on the Board of Directors of the International Society for Black Musicians. He uses his voice and platform as a Black conductor to advocate for performance, publication, and preservation of minority voices in classical music.

Kedrick Armstrong is a Chicago-based conductor who made his Chicago Opera Theater debut leading the premiere production of The Puppy Episode in 2021. This invitation came after serving as assistant conductor for their production of Freedom Ride in 2020.

He made his debut conducting the Knox-Galesburg Symphony in 2020 and was immediately scheduled to return the following month, leading the orchestra in a celebration of American women composers. Armstrong is an alum of Chicago Sinfonietta’s Project Inclusion Freeman Conducting Fellow program and was the assistant conductor during the orchestra’s 2018-2019 season.

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