Erie Philharmonic Chorus Performs Handel's Messiah
First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant plays host to musical majesty
SATURDAY, DEC. 9
The Erie Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra will be performing George Frederic Handel's Messiah at the First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant. Considered a holiday music tradition, Messiah is well known for its thrilling arias with scriptural text taken from the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.
"Composed nearly 300 years ago, Handel's career-defining oratorio remains one of the most popular pieces in classical canon and an unequaled tribute to the holidays that sets the audience's pulses racing each year," the Philharmonic describes. "Experience the magic for yourself this December with this full-scale concert from the Erie Philharmonic, featuring four amazing guest soloists and the stunning talents of the Erie Philharmonic Chorus."
The choir will be under the direction of Thomas Brooks, featuring soprano Kelly Futterer, mezzo-soprano Meridian Prall, tenor Travon Walker, and bass Christopher Humbert as guest soloists.
"[The church is] 90 years old," Joseph Kumer, director of community engagement at First Presbyterian explained. "People say it looks a lot older, it looks like a European cathedral. There's a recurring intentional theme of grapevines. It's in stone, wood, and plaster all throughout the building. It always reminds me that Jesus is the vine and we are the branches."
The First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant was initially a merger of two Presbyterian churches in Erie: Park Church and Central Church. The two voted to merge together in 1927, with the Presbytery of Erie approving the merger on Feb. 8, 1929, with services beginning the following year with over 3,000 worshipers. Known as the "Church of the Covenant", the new congregation officially merged with First Presbyterian Church in 1981. The former building used by First Presbyterian was purchased by Gannon University.
Montgomery Service, director of music and worship technology and member of the Philharmonic Chorus, enjoys working with the community on musical events. "It's been really great working with the [Erie] Philharmonic. Handel's Messiah is an iconic piece of music, and having it performed in a sacred setting like our church is a good thing. I think it's been a great way to let the community have the chance to come to church for something other than a church service and get a chance to see everything."
Handel's Messiah has been performed by choirs all over the world during the holiday season. "It's so well-known to lots of people. It screams Christmas tradition and brings all those emotions that come with that," Montgomery explains. "It quotes scripture all throughout the music, so it makes sense for it to be performed in a sanctuary this time of year. It's a challenging piece of music as well, so it's great to have musicians like the Erie Philharmonic chorus and the orchestra there."
The Church went through renovations in the early 2000s, updating the lighting, windows, and sound design through new speakers and wood that help with acoustics. "I think the acoustics in our space lend itself really well to a group that size. It's great to have a full choir there with the orchestra and soloists as well. It just really seems like the right venue acoustically for both the performers and the audience. Aside from a speaking microphone, that's all the amplification you need."
"It sells out, and sometimes there are two shows. Our congregation is very glad to be the host site. We love that Handel's Messiah gets to be performed by the orchestra in the building every year before Christmas," Kumer answered about the community response. "People have sung this in high school and in churches. It's just a beautiful, magical piece of work."
3 to 4:30 p.m. // First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, 250 W. 7th St. // $17-$25 // For tickets and info: eriephil.org