Handel's "Messiah" is one of the wonders of the musical world. Written in a white-hot burst of inspiration, the long and complex oratorio was composed between Aug. 22 and Sept Sept...

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Handel’s “Messiah” is one of the wonders of the musical world. Written in a white-hot burst of inspiration, the long and complex oratorio was composed between Aug. 22 and Sept. 12, 1741 — while Handel turned away visitors and food. He composed the “Messiah” for a series of charity concerts presented by the Duke of Devonshire in Dublin, where the oratorio had its premiere in April 1742.

Full of brilliant choruses, affecting solos and virtuoso turns for all the singers, “Messiah” is one of the world’s most recognized classical scores, and an annual touchstone for holiday-season concertgoers. Only the first of the oratorio’s three parts, however, relates to the Christmas season. The “Messiah” tells the story of the life of Christ, and in Handel’s day, it usually was produced around Easter (to which there are many references in the second and third parts).

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In the Northwest, the Seattle Symphony’s annual performances are among the most sought-after. This year, Gerard Schwarz leads the orchestra and the chorale (the latter prepared by assistant conductor Christian Knapp) in five performances: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. next Friday, 1 and 8 p.m. Dec. 18 and 2 p.m. Dec. 19, all in Benaroya Hall.

An international group of four soloists will include Swedish mezzo-soprano Charlotte Hellekant, whose opera career spans Paris, Salzburg, Berlin, Chicago and Washington, D.C., in repertoire that includes some premieres. She will be joined by American baritone James Maddalena (best known for the title role in “Nixon in China”); tenor Karl Dent (who made a very favorable impression in the same solo spot here in 2002); and Chinese soprano Ying Huang. Huang played the title role in Frederic Mitterrand’s 1995 film of “Madame Butterfly,” and has also been associated with the music of several contemporary composers, including Richard Danielpour and Tan Dun.


Joy of singing


Last weekend, the Seattle Men’s Chorus launched its “Underneath the Mistletoe” holiday concert to great acclaim. Now, the group’s sister organization, the 150-voice Seattle Women’s Chorus, launches its second annual holiday concert with the same conductor, Dennis Coleman.



Concert previews



Seattle Symphony “Messiah,” 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. next Friday, 1 and 8 p.m. Dec. 18 and 2 p.m. Dec. 19, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $16-$55 (206-215-4747 or www.seattlesymphony.org).

Seattle Women’s Chorus, 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, Meany Theater, University of Washington, Seattle; $17.50-$50 (206-323-2992 or www.seattlemenschorus.org).

Northwest Chamber Orchestra Showcase, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nordstrom Recital Hall, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $25-$35 (206-343-0445 or www.nwco.org).


The SWC’s two shows, “Jingle Jangle Joy!,” are in Meany Theater, starting at 8 p.m. tomorrow and 2 p.m. Sunday. Like the SMC, this chorus puts on a show with staging, humor, serious classical singing and a wide variety of holiday-related selections. One certain highlight: the tap-dancing nuns.


A side of “Trout”


Pianist Robert Silverman steps in for Northwest Chamber Orchestra music director Ralf Gothóni, who was unable to travel to Seattle for this Schubert evening. Silverman will be featured in the “Showcase” program, whose centerpiece is the famous “Trout” Quintet.

Silverman, a distinguished Canadian pianist who was heard in a full cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas in Seattle a few years back, will be joined by Northwest Chamber Orchestra players — violinist Marjorie Kransberg-Talvi, violist Laurel Wells, cellist Page Smith Bilski and Todd Larson, bass — for the “Trout.”

(Wondering about that title? One of the Quintet’s movements has a theme that was taken from one of Schubert’s most popular songs, “Die Forelle,” or “The Trout.”)

The program, part of the orchestra’s Spotlight Series, starts at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall. As always, the orchestra’s liberal education policy allows for one free child’s ticket (17 and under) for any child attending with a paying adult on a one-to-one basis. (Specify the child’s ticket when the adult ticket is purchased.)

Melinda Bargreen: mbargreen@seattletimes.com