One of the things that makes Gary Thor Wedow the happiest about bringing George Frideric Handel’s 1741 “Messiah” back to the Seattle Symphony Orchestra this year is that, well, he got hold of a clean score.
“I have new physical parts for the orchestra to use,” he says. “My old pages had so many markings over them, like barnacles, players couldn’t see the notes anymore.”
Wedow — who has conducted “Messiah” both for Seattle Symphony and Seattle Opera in years past — will lead the orchestra, the Seattle Symphony Chorale (under the direction of Joseph Crnko) and soprano Amanda Forsythe, mezzo-soprano Magdalena Wór, tenor Andrew Stenson and bass Kevin Burdette in four performances of the seasonal favorite beginning Friday.
It’s no surprise Wedow’s old score was so dense with interpretive scrawls. Long acknowledged as a “Messiah” expert who conducts Handel’s oratorio every year, sometimes in more than one city (he led nine critically acclaimed performances in 2012 between Birmingham, Ala., and New York), Wedow enjoys the annual opportunity to reconsider his approach.
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“You learn something new every time, and you do it with different people, who bring something unique to it,” he says. “When I started conducting ‘Messiah’ 30 years ago, players might have had an interest in 18th-century music, but things had to be explicit in the parts.
“Now, especially with the Seattle Symphony — which has had a lot of experience with early music — you don’t need to give so much information to the players.”
Wedow says he has spent a lot of time this year thinking about his “Messiah” interpretation.
“You grow and change,” he says. “I’ve embraced more and more the idea that this is a work that moves in operatic scenes. It’s carefully designated as different scenes — psychological, philosophical — so we get sections that are like suites of music. Rather than see a two-minute chorus and a four-minute aria, I now see bigger movements.
“I like to connect these and show the audience the grandeur of the piece and how the little movements go together to make big, almost symphonic movements.”
Wedow says he no longer takes a dry, rigid approach, but rather one that is “more authentic.”
“Handel was an incredible vehicle. He had a German engine and an Italian body. He has this incredible harmonic virtuosity, but he was also a composer of bel canto. He wrote for the human voice. He loved singers and was friends with many of them. So I’ve become much more Italian in my approach to ‘Messiah,’ which is ironic because it’s an English oratorio.”
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org